Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Carnival of Human Resources and Leadership

Welcome to the September 17th edition of the Carnival of Human Resources, the virtual gathering, every other week, of bloggers focused on Human Resources and Leadership topics.

Let’s imagine all participants in a conference room, conducting a lively Q&A brown-bag lunch discussion.

Q: Can you teach Leadership in a classroom?
– Wally: Not really. Neither the person who aspires to become a leader nor HR departments should see leadership development as an activity to be outsourced to a classroom setting. Leadership is a lifelong apprentice trade, led by the learner himself/ herself. The most HR departments can do is to architect the right set of experiences to enable/ accelerate that development.

Q: Can you teach Social Intelligence in a classroom?
– Jon: According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, not really. Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis say that “our brains engage in an emotional tango, a dance of feelings”. And you learn Tango by, well, dancing Tango. Goleman and Boyatzis add that “Leading effectively is about developing a genuine interest in and talent for fostering positive feelings in the people whose cooperation and support you need.”

Q: Can you provide an example of applying social intelligence in the workplace, and training on-the-job?
– Suzanne: Sure. Learn to appreciate your front line employees. They are the ones who interact with customers every day – which some companies seem to ignore at their peril.
– Denise: another oneWhat can you do when your team falls apart while you’re gone?.

Q: How can you generate positive feelings, when sometimes we get stuck in bad news and constant quarter-by-quarter pressures?
– Anna: Adding much needed perspective. Please note: Read the rest of this entry »

Update: The Challenges of Gerontology

Here you have the twice-a-month newsletter with our 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.

First, I am pleased to report that have been invited to participate in a new initiative by the World Economic Forum. Described as “In a global environment marked by short-term orientation and silo-thinking, Global Agenda Councils will foster interdisciplinary and long-range thinking to address the prevailing challenges on the global agenda”, my specific Council will focus on the Challenges of Gerontology. More information on the Global Agenda Councils here. Will keep you updated via this blog.

In the News

Yes, It is Smart to Learn New Tricks: a recent Washington Post article presents a good overview of brain health trends, but framed around a highly artificial choice for consumers: either you a) do physical exercise, or b) take part in social interactions, or c) engage in mental exercise. What about switching off those TVs and having time for all a, b, c, and more?

Mind Games: the August issue of Venture Capital Journal brings a very good piece on the emerging brain fitness software category (subscription required), which we enhance by providing a quick overview of the field.

CogniFit raises USD 5 million: if 2007 was the year of brain fitness media coverage, 2008 seems to be the year of serious investments. This CogniFit round follows other recent venture investments: Dakim ($10.6m), Lumos Labs ($3m). We hear all these companies are devoting part of these resources to fund clinical trials…never too late.

Brain Science and Lifelong Learning

Schools as Brain Training Hubs?: in a recent post we asked for suggestions to refine our predictions for the 2007-2015 period. A good number of readers contributed, and the winner of this informal contest is… Scott Spears, retired public schools superintendent, for his thoughts on the future implications of cognitive research on schooling.

Neurogenesis and Brain Plasticity in Adult Brains: while “adults may have a tendency to get set in their ways I’ve been doing it this way for a long time and it works, so why change?”, change itself is an excellent practice for healthy brain aging, as Laurie Bartels explains.

A Farewell to Dementia?: a fascinating recent editorial in Archives of Neurology, titled Dementia: A Word to be Forgotten, calls for more constructive terminology. Dr. Joshua Steinerman weighs in.

Other Thought-Provoking Articles

To Think or to Blink?: should Hamlet be living with us now and reading bestsellers, he might be wondering: To Blink or not to Blink? To Think or not to Think? We are pleased to present an article by Madeleine Van Hecke, offering the “on the other hand” to Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink argument.

The impact of web 2.0 on healthcare: we hosted Medicine 2.0, a bi-weekly collection of articles that analyze the current and potential impact of web 2.0 technologies on medicine and healthcare.

Brain Teasers

Brain Teasers: Spot the Difference: how many differences can you spot (and how many cognitive functions can you engage with this simple exercise?)

I hope you are having a great August!

To Think or to Blink?

(Editor’s Note: Should Hamlet be living with us now and reading bestsellers, he might be wondering: To Blink or not to Blink? To Think or not to Think? We are pleased to present, as part of our ongoing Author Speaks Series, an article by Blind SpotsMadeleine Van Hecke, author of Blind Spots: Why Smart People Do Dumb Things. In it, she offers the “on the other hand” to Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink argument.)

To Think or to Blink?

– By Madeleine Van Hecke, PhD

Is thoughtful reflection necessarily better than hasty judgments?

Not according to Malcolm Gladwell who argued in his best-selling book, Blink, that the decisions people make in a blink are often not only just as accurate, but MORE accurate, than the conclusions they draw after painstaking analysis.

So, should we blink, or think?

When we make judgments based on a thin slice of time  a few minutes talking with someone in a speed dating situation, for example are our judgments really as accurate as when we analyze endless reams of data?

Read the rest of this entry »

Jogging our Brains for Brain Vitality, Healthy Aging-and Intelligence!

Stroop Test

Quick: say the color in which each word in this graphic is displayed (don’t just read the word!):

Here you have a round-up of some great recent articles on memory, aging, and cognitive abilities such as self-control:

1) How to Boost Your Willpower (New York Times).

– “The video watchers were later given a concentration test in which they were asked to identify the color in which words were displayed. (Note: now you see why we started with that brain exercise…) The word  for instance, might appear in blue ink. The video watchers who had stifled their responses did the worst on the test, suggesting that their self-control had already been depleted by the film challenge.”

– “Finally, some research suggests that people struggling with self-control should start small. A few studies show that people who were instructed for two weeks to make small changes like improving their posture or brushing their teeth with their opposite hand improved their scores on laboratory tests of self-control. The data aren’t conclusive, but they do suggest that the quest for self-improvement should start small. A vow to stop swearing, to make the bed every day or to give up just one food may be a way to strengthen your self-control, giving you more willpower reserves for bigger challenges later.”

Comment: learning, building abilities, are processes that require practice and growing levels of difficulty. Like training our muscles in the gym. So the advice to start small and progressively do more makes sense. Many times the enemy of learning is the stress and anxiety we provoke by trying to do too many things at the same time…

2) Jogging Your Memory (Newsweek) Thanks Chris for alerting us!

– “No one should expect miracles soon, if at all. But the deeper scientists peer into the workings of memory, the better they understand Read the rest of this entry »

Stress Management Workshop for International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day 2007.

Global consulting company Accenture organized a series of events, and I was fortunate to lead a fun workshop on The Neuroscience of Stress and Stress Management in their San Francisco office, helping over 125 accomplished women (and a few men) learn what stress is, its implications for our brain functioning, performance and health, and of course some tips and techniques to develop our “stress management” muscles. It was an honor to be able to wrap up a great event that included District Attorney Kamala D. Harris, two of the co-authors of This is Not the Life I Ordered, a video by Senator Dianne Feinstein, and some great Accenture women.

We discussed how stress is the emotional and physiological reaction to a threat, whether real or imagined, that results in a series of adaptations by our bodies. And how stress management can bring a variety of benefits: sustained peak performance, cognitive flexibility, memory, decision making, and even longevity.
You can see a very interesting example of the relationship between attention, memory and stress with this experiment: Attention and working memory

Let me share some key take-aways from the workshop, together with some exercises we used to illustrate key points:

1) Stress can be a major roadblock for peak performance and health
2) Some tips and techniques to better manage stress:
a) Pick your battles Read the rest of this entry »

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