Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


The neuroscience of positive, vision-based coaching

Good coach­es get results, respect, and awards. But what makes a coach or men­tor good?

One school of thought says they should hold their mentees to spe­cif­ic per­for­mance bench­marks and help them reach those bench­marks by tar­get­ing their per­son­al weak­ness­es.

But new research sug­gests a dif­fer­ent tack—namely, to nur­ture a mentee’s strengths, aspi­ra­tions for the future, and goals for per­son­al growth. Indeed, Read the rest of this entry »

Neuroscientists: Develop digital games to improve brain function and well-being

interactivemediaAuthors: Devel­op dig­i­tal games to improve brain func­tion and well-being (UW-Madi­son News):

Neu­ro­sci­en­tists should help to devel­op com­pelling dig­i­tal games that boost brain func­tion and improve well-being, say two pro­fes­sors spe­cial­iz­ing in the field in a com­men­tary arti­cle pub­lished in the sci­ence jour­nal Nature. In the Feb. 28 issue, the two — Daphne Bave­li­er of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Rochester and Richard J. David­son of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin-Madi­son — urge game design­ers and brain sci­en­tists to work togeth­er to design new games that train the brain, pro­duc­ing pos­i­tive effects on behav­ior, such as decreas­ing anx­i­ety, sharp­en­ing atten­tion and improv­ing empa­thy.”

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What to Do and Not to Do to Boost Self-Control

More and more research sug­gests that our brains have dif­fi­cul­ty dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing between observ­ing an action and actu­al­ly par­tic­i­pat­ing in it. Empa­thy, for exam­ple, seems to hinge in part on our abil­i­ty to “take on” another’s emo­tions through vic­ar­i­ous expe­ri­ence. I always think of this when watch­ing a come­di­an fall flat. I can feel the embar­rass­ment as if I’m stand­ing there on stage look­ing at a room full of blank stares.

A study in the jour­nal Psy­cho­log­i­cal Sci­ence inves­ti­gat­ed this dynam­ic, but from a dif­fer­ent angle: researchers want­ed to know if observ­ing some­one else exert self-con­trol boosts or reduces one’s own self-con­trol. Read the rest of this entry »

The Evolution of Empathy

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

The Evo­lu­tion of Empa­thy

Empathy’s not a unique­ly human trait, explains pri­ma­tol­o­gist Frans de Waal. Apes and oth­er ani­mals feel it as well, sug­gest­ing that empa­thy is tru­ly an essen­tial part of who we are.

Once upon a time, the Unit­ed States had a pres­i­dent known for a pecu­liar facial dis­play. In an act of con­trolled emo­tion, he would bite his low­er lip and tell his audi­ence, “I feel your pain.” Whether the dis­play was sin­cere is not the issue here; how we are affect­ed by another’s predica­ment is. Empa­thy is sec­ond nature to us, so much so that any­one devoid of it strikes us as dan­ger­ous or men­tal­ly ill.

At the movies, we can’t help but get inside the skin of the char­ac­ters on the screen. We despair when their gigan­tic ship sinks; we exult when they final­ly stare into the eyes of a long-lost lover.

We are so used to empa­thy that we take it for grant­ed, yet it is essen­tial to human soci­ety as we know it. Our moral­i­ty depends on it: How could any­one be expect­ed to fol­low the gold­en rule with­out the capac­i­ty to men­tal­ly trade places with a fel­low human being? It is log­i­cal to assume that this capac­i­ty came first, giv­ing rise to the gold­en rule itself. The act of per­spec­tive-tak­ing is summed up by one of the most endur­ing def­i­n­i­tions of empa­thy that we have, for­mu­lat­ed by Adam Smith as “chang­ing places in fan­cy with the suf­fer­er.”

Even Smith, the father of eco­nom­ics, best known for empha­siz­ing self-inter­est as the lifeblood of human econ­o­my, under­stood that the con­cepts of self-inter­est and empa­thy don’t con­flict. Empa­thy makes us reach out to oth­ers, first just emo­tion­al­ly, but lat­er in life also by under­stand­ing their sit­u­a­tion.

This capac­i­ty like­ly evolved because it served our ances­tors’ sur­vival in two ways. First, like every mam­mal, we need to be sen­si­tive to the needs of our off­spring. Sec­ond, our species depends on coop­er­a­tion, which means that we do bet­ter if we are sur­round­ed by healthy, capa­ble group mates. Tak­ing care of them is just a mat­ter of enlight­ened self-inter­est.

Ani­mal empa­thy

It is hard to imag­ine that empathy—a char­ac­ter­is­tic so basic to the human species that it emerges ear­ly in life, and is accom­pa­nied by strong phys­i­o­log­i­cal reactions—came into exis­tence only when our lin­eage split off from that of the apes. It must be far old­er than that. Exam­ples of empa­thy in oth­er ani­mals would sug­gest a long evo­lu­tion­ary his­to­ry to this capac­i­ty in humans.

Evo­lu­tion rarely throws any­thing out. Instead, Read the rest of this entry »

Grand Rounds: Brain and Cognition edition

Encephalon (brain & mind blog car­ni­val, edi­tion ) final­ly meets Grand Rounds (health & med­i­cine blog car­ni­val).

What a nice sur­prise. Hel­lo. Nice to meet you!

Note: Chron­ic Babe wins a com­pli­men­ta­ry copy of The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness for basi­cal­ly invent­ing cog­ni­tive sleep ther­a­py. Con­grats!

Life and Death

Mind­Hacks dis­cuss­es an unex­pect­ed surge in brain activ­i­ty when blood pres­sure drops to zero.

In Sick­ness & In Health suf­fers a death in the fam­i­ly. Adam shem tov. A man of good name.

Brain­Blog­ger won­ders, is reli­gion a “nat­ur­al” phe­nom­e­non?

Mind and Empa­thy

Behav­ior­ism & Men­tal Health finds that every­one can have a men­tal ill­ness — take a look at “Adjust­ment Dis­or­der”.

ACP Internist rein­forces the impor­tance of empa­thy. Nov­el Patient encour­ages patients to dream big, Flo­re­cen­dot­com high­lights how patients them­selves con­tribute to patient safe­ty. The Hip­po­crat­ic Oaf dis­cuss­es the feel­ings of a med­ical stu­dent. Clin­i­cal Cas­es won­ders what doc­tors  in train­ing car­ry in their white coats.

Advances in the His­to­ry of Psy­chol­o­gy exam­ines an impor­tant ear­ly step in the jour­ney to con­cep­tu­al­ize cog­ni­tion and emo­tion from a neur­al point of view.

The Fit­ness Fix­er empathizes with her feet.


How to Cope With Pain dis­cuss­es a con­tro­ver­sial treat­ment for severe pain.

Neu­rophiloso­pher shows how vision (view­ing one’s body) can mod­u­late the sens­es of touch and pain. Fun exper­i­ments  includ­ed. Neu­r­o­crit­ic takes things one step fur­ther, and takes us to the poten­tial future of tat­too removal.

Prov­i­den­tia announces a new NFL Con­cus­sion Com­mit­tee. 300,000 sports-relat­ed trau­mat­ic brain injuries occur in the Unit­ed States alone each year.

Sharp­Brains answers 15 com­mon ques­tions relat­ed to neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty.

Med­ical Smart­phones Read the rest of this entry »

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