Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Kids for life? Pros and cons of lifelong neuroplasticity, as seen via our emotional development

— Windows of plasticity in brain development. Adapted from Hensch T.K. (2005). Critical period plasticity in local cortical circuits. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 6(11), 877-888

The Brain’s Emotional Development (Dana Foundation’s Cerebrum):

“Humans are likely the most emotionally regulated creatures on earth. Compared to other animal species, we can modulate and modify emotional reactions and experiences, even very intense ones, through a large and sophisticated emotion regulation repertoire that includes skills of distraction, reappraisal, language, prediction, social interaction, suppression, and more. At times, these skills require effort, and at other times, they seem reflexive and automatic. Read the rest of this entry »

Arts and Smarts: Test Scores and Cognitive Development

(Editor’s Note: we are pleased to bring you this article thanks to our collaboration with Greater Good Magazine.)

At a time when educators are preoccupied with standards, testing, and the bottom line, some researchers suggest the arts can boost students’ test scores; others aren’t convinced. Karin Evans asks, What are the arts good for?


When poet and national endowment for the Arts Chairman Dana Gioia gave the 2007 Commencement Address at Stanford University, he used the occasion to deliver an impassioned argument for the value of the arts and arts education.

“Art is an irreplaceable way of understanding and expressing the world,” said Gioia. “There are some truths about life that can be expressed only as stories, or songs, or images. Art delights, instructs, consoles. It educates our emotions.”

For years, arts advocates like Gioia have been making similar pleas, stressing the intangible benefits of the arts at a time when many Americans are preoccupied with a market–driven culture of entertainment, and schools are consumed with meeting federal standards. Art brings joy, these advocates say, or it evokes our humanity, or, in the words of my 10–year–old daughter, “It cools kids down after all the other hard stuff they have to think about.”

Bolstering the case for the arts has become increasingly necessary in recent years, as school budget cuts and the move toward standardized testing have profoundly threatened the role of the arts in schools. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, passed in 2002, the federal government started assessing school districts by their students’ scores on reading and mathematics tests.

As a result, according to a study by the Center on Education Policy, school districts across the United States increased the time they devoted to tested subjects—reading/language arts and math—while cutting spending on non–tested subjects such as the visual arts and music. The more a school fell behind, by NCLB standards, the more time and money was devoted to those tested subjects, with less going to the arts. The National Education Association has reported that the cuts fall hardest on schools with high numbers of minority children.

And the situation is likely to worsen as state budgets get even tighter. Already, in a round of federal education cuts for 2006 and 2007, arts education nationally was slashed by $35 million. In 2008, the New York City Department of Education’s annual study of Read the rest of this entry »

Update: Emerging Tools, Not Magic Pills

Here you are have the twice-a-month newsletter with our 10 most popular blog posts. Please brainremember that you can subscribe to receive this Newsletter by email, simply by submitting your email at the top of this page.

Our first Brain Training/ Fitness Webinar Series was a success with several hundred participants and great feedback. If you could not participate, you can still review the presentation slides by clicking Here. A key message from the series: it is exciting that our brains remain more flexible, at all ages, than was once thought possible. The implications? Every single owner of a brain can benefit from learning more about how to maintain the “It” in “Use It or Lose It.” And which tools, if any, can be helpful. But, remember,there are no magic pills for cognitive health and performance.

Market News

National Neurotechnology Initiative: Neurotech leaders ask for help to support a pending bill on funding for applications of brain research.

Lumos Labs raises $3 m in venture capital:  This website provides a stimulating Read the rest of this entry »

Cognitive and Emotional Development Through Play

We sometimes neglect to mention a very basic yet powerful method of cognitive and emotional development, for children and adults alike: Play.

Dr. David Elkind, author of The Power of Play: Learning That Comes Naturally, discusses the need to build a more “playful culture” in this great article The Power of Play And Learningbrought to you thanks to our collaboration with Greater Good Magazine.

– Alvaro

——————–

Can We Play?

— By Dr. David Elkind

Play is rapidly disappearing from our homes, our schools, and our neighborhoods. Over the last two decades alone, children have lost eight hours of free, unstructured, and spontaneous play a week. More than 30,000 schools in the United States have eliminated recess to make more time for academics. From 1997 to 2003, children’s time spent outdoors fell 50 percent, according to a study by Sandra Hofferth at the University of Maryland. Hofferth has also found that the amount of time children spend in organized sports has doubled, and the number of minutes children devote each week to passive leisure, not including watching television, has increased from 30 minutes to more than three hours. It is no surprise, then, that childhood obesity is now considered an epidemic.

But the problem goes well beyond obesity. Decades of research has shown that play is crucial to physical, intellectual, and social-emotional development at all ages. This is especially true of the purest form of play: the unstructured, self-motivated, imaginative, independent kind, where children initiate their own games and even invent their own rules.

Read the rest of this entry »

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