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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