Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Salon.com on Brain Fitness: Tree or Forest?

Salon.com pub­lished yes­ter­day a thought-pro­vok­ing arti­cle focused on Posit Science’s Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram, titled Buff Up Your Brain, that com­bined a) some pret­ty good analy­sis and great points about that spe­cif­ic pro­gram and jus­ti­fi­able (to a point) crit­i­cism of the com­mer­cial tone of a recent PBS Spe­cial, with b) the error of con­fus­ing a tree with the for­est, that led the author to make sev­er­al unwar­rant­ed claims regard­ing the field.

Com­put­er­ized cog­ni­tive train­ing has been around since way before Posit Sci­ence, and will be here way beyond Posit Sci­ence (and Sharp­Brains, and Salon.com), and their audi­to­ry pro­cess­ing prod­uct-fea­tured in the PBS Spe­cial- is not, in our view, the most par­tic­u­lar­ly impres­sive exam­ple. Well-direct­ed cog­ni­tive exer­cise can enhance men­tal skills and trans­fer to real-life out­comes, act­ing as a good com­ple­men­tary tool, when used prop­er­ly, to oth­er lifestyle options and tools.

Read the rest of this entry »

The new Mental Game: sport psychology, coaches, get ready!

One of the many Sharp Brains around, who is up to date of every­thing relat­ed to brain health and fit­ness (yes, Jeanne, that’s you! thanks for being such a great bureau chief!) has sent us a very inter­est­ing press note on how brain fit­ness and train­ing can be applied in the sports per­for­mance world. I haven’t been able to track down the research behind the spe­cif­ic pro­grams men­tioned in the arti­cle, but the the­o­ret­i­cal ratio­nale makes sense based on sim­i­lar pro­grams we are famil­iar with: you can see below a sum­ma­ry of our inter­view with Prof. Daniel Gopher, sci­en­tif­ic mind behind com­put­er-based cog­ni­tive sim­u­la­tions for mil­i­tary pilots and for bas­ket­ball play­ers.

The note Sports Vision Train­ing Takes Ath­letes to New Fron­tiers explains how

  • Spe­cial­ty sports vision facil­i­ties are help­ing ath­letes train skills that many believed were “untrain­able”; skills like antic­i­pa­tion, field vision, tim­ing, sport intel­li­gence, game tem­po, reac­tion speed, focus and con­cen­tra­tion.”
  • What has every­one all worked up is the knowl­edge that they can actu­al­ly train ath­let­ic skills that many believed were “untrain­able.” We’re talk­ing about intan­gi­bles like antic­i­pa­tion, field vision, tim­ing, sport intel­li­gence, game tem­po, reac­tion speed, focus and con­cen­tra­tion. “One of the worst mis­takes an ath­lete can make is to believe that you’re either born with or with­out these kinds of skills, and that they’re con­se­quent­ly not train­able, says Bri­an Stam­mer, edi­tor of SportsVi­sion Mag­a­zine. “If you want to be the best ath­lete you can be, you must do exer­cis­es to con­di­tion and sharp­en your sen­so­ry sys­tem, includ­ing visu­al, audi­to­ry and brain-pro­cess­ing speed.
  • This is the link to the mag­a­zine they men­tion: SportsVi­sion Mag­a­zine

And here is the sum­ma­ry of my (AF) inter­view with Prof. Daniel Gopher (DG) on Cog­ni­tive Sim­u­la­tions and cog­ni­tive train­ing:

  • AF: …Can you sum­ma­rize your research find­ings across all these exam­ples and fields, and how you see the field evolv­ing?
  • DG: In short, I’d sum­ma­rize by say­ing that
  • - Cog­ni­tive per­for­mance can be sub­stan­tial­ly improved with prop­er train­ing. Read the rest of this entry »

Brain training to live long and strong

If you want to live long and strong, you’ve got to do more than work out your body; you’ve got to exer­cise your brain, insists Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg, clin­i­cal pro­fes­sor of neu­rol­o­gy at New York Uni­ver­si­ty School of Med­i­cine. While we’ve heard for years that men­tal stim­u­la­tion can stave off demen­tia and Alzheimer’s, Dr. Gold­berg says sci­en­tists now know exact­ly how to keep our brains from turn­ing to mush – by stim­u­lat­ing the growth of new neu­rons and inter­con­nec­tions between them that boost brain effi­cien­cy. If you don’t use your brain in new and nov­el ways, your brain won’t be fit to use.

As the chief sci­en­tif­ic advis­er for SharpBrains.com, Dr. Goldberg’s site offers an array of brain teasers and exer­cis­es that improve brain func­tion. But online tests are not all you can do. Just do some­thing dif­fer­ent and chal­leng­ing. Get­ting out of your mid­dle-aged com­fort zone is the dif­fer­ence in a high qual­i­ty of life when you’re old­er than none at all.

Keep read­ing more of the Flori­da Today inter­view with Dr. Gold­berg at Next Up, A Gym for the Mind.

You can also read our more detailed (and prob­a­bly more pre­cise) inter­view with Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg on Brain Fit­ness and Cog­ni­tive Train­ing.

Brain Training: the Art and the emerging Science

Tom alerts us (thanks!) of a fun book review in the New York Times today, by Abi­gail Zuger, titled The Brain: Mal­leable, Capa­ble, Vul­ner­a­ble, on the book The Brain That Changes Itself (Viking, $24.95) by psy­chi­a­trist Nor­man Doidge. Some quotes:

  • In book­stores, the sci­ence aisle gen­er­al­ly lies well away from the self-help sec­tion, with hard real­i­ty on one set of shelves and wish­ful think­ing on the oth­er. But Nor­man Doidge’s fas­ci­nat­ing syn­op­sis of the cur­rent rev­o­lu­tion in neu­ro­science strad­dles this gap: the age-old dis­tinc­tion between the brain and the mind is crum­bling fast as the pow­er of pos­i­tive think­ing final­ly gains sci­en­tif­ic cred­i­bil­i­ty.”
  • So it is for­giv­able that Dr. Doidge, a Cana­di­an psy­chi­a­trist and award-win­ning sci­ence writer, recounts the accom­plish­ments of the “neu­ro­plas­ti­cians,”  as he calls the neu­ro­sci­en­tists involved in these new stud­ies, with breath­less rev­er­ence. Their work is indeed mind-bend­ing, mir­a­cle-mak­ing, real­i­ty-bust­ing stuff, with impli­ca­tions, as Dr. Doidge notes, not only for indi­vid­ual patients with neu­ro­log­ic dis­ease but for all human beings, not to men­tion human cul­ture, human learn­ing and human his­to­ry.”
  • Research into the mal­leabil­i­ty of the nor­mal brain has been no less amaz­ing. Sub­jects who learn to play a sequence of notes on the piano devel­op char­ac­ter­is­tic changes in the brain’s elec­tric activ­i­ty; when oth­er sub­jects sit in front of a piano and just think about play­ing the same notes, the same changes occur. It is the vir­tu­al made real, a sol­id quan­tifi­ca­tion of the pow­er of thought.”
  • The new sci­ence of the brain may still be in its infan­cy, but already, as Dr. Doidge makes quite clear, the sci­en­tif­ic minds are leap­ing ahead.”

Here you have some of our inter­views with a few “sci­en­tif­ic minds” that have, for years, been “leap­ing ahead” beyond “pos­i­tive think­ing” into “pos­i­tive train­ing”:

And a cou­ple of relat­ed blog posts:

Yoga and stress management

GABA Receptor
Steven Edwards at Wired Blog writes a post titled Yoga Boosts Brain’s GABA Lev­els, say­ing that “Par­tic­i­pants in the yoga group had a 27% increase in GABA lev­els, while those in the read­ing group remained unchanged. Co-authors Chris Streeter from BUSM and Domenic Ciraulo point­ed out that this research shows a method of treat­ing low GABA states. Fair­ly obvi­ous — yes — but this shows a non­phar­ma­co­log­i­cal method for increas­ing GABA lev­els that peo­ple can act on now, with­out wait­ing for a drug to go through FDA approval.”

Hav­ing attend­ed last week a con­fer­ence where neu­rophar­ma exec­u­tives pre­sent­ed all their future drugs against obe­si­ty, anx­i­ety, depression…I couldn’t agree more. The rates of seri­ous side effects of these drugs are astound­ing, yet as a soci­ety we seem to pre­fer to rely on tak­ing drugs when are sick rather than proac­tive­ly tak­ing charge of our health and lifestyles and do our best (which not always is enough) to pro­tect our fit­ness and well­ness.

The press release Steven talks about: Yoga and Ele­vat­ed Brain GABA Lev­els [PhysOrg]. Quotes: Read the rest of this entry »

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