Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Top 7 Brainteasers for Job Interviews and Brain Challenge

A recent CNN article explains well why a growing number of companies use brainteasers and logic puzzles of a type called “guesstimations” during job interviews:

– “Seemingly random questions like these have become commonplace in Silicon Valley and other tech outposts, where companies aren’t as interested in the correct answer to a tough question as they are in how a prospective employee might try to solve it. Since businesses today have to be able to react quickly to shifting market dynamics, they want more than engineers with high IQs and good college transcripts. They want people who can think on their feet.”

What are technology companies (Google, Microsoft, Amazon) and consulting companies (McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, Accenture…) looking for? They want employees withbrain teasers job interview good so-called Executive Functions: problem-solving, cognitive flexibility, planning, working memory, decision-making, even emotional self-regulation (don’t try to solve one of these puzzles while being angry, or stressed out).

Want to try a few? Below you have our Top 7 Guesstimations/ Logic Puzzles for Brain Challenge:

Please try to GUESS the answers to the questions below based on your own logical approach. The goal is not to find out (or Google) the right answer, but to Read the rest of this entry »

Information Overload? Seven Learning and Productivity Tips

We often talk in this blog about how to expand fundamental abilities or cognitive functions, like attention, or memory, or emotional self-regulation. Think of them as muscles one can train. Now, it is also important to think of ways one can use our existing muscles more efficiently.

Let’s talk about how to manage better the overwhelming amount of information available these days.

Hundreds of thousands of new books, analyst reports, scientific papers published every year. Millions of websites at our googletips. The flow of data, information and knowledge is growing exponentially, stretching the capacity of our not-so-evolved brains. We can complain all day that we cannot process ALL this flow. Now, let me ask, should we even try?

Probably not. Why engage in a losing proposition. Instead, let me offer a few strategies that can help manage this flow of information better.

1. Prioritize: strategic consulting firms such as McKinsey and BCG train their staff in the so-called 80/20 rule: 80% of effects are caused by the top 20% of causes. In a company, 80% sales may come from 20% of the accounts. Implication: focus on that top 20%; don’t spend too much time on the 80% that only account for 20%.

2. Leverage a scientific mindset. Scientists shift through tons of data in efficient, goal-oriented ways. How do they do it? By first stating a hypothesis and then looking for data. For example, an untrained person could spend weeks “boiling the ocean”, trying to read as much as possible, in a very fragmentary way, about how physical exercise affects our brain. A trained scientist would first define clear hypotheses and preliminary assumptions, such as “Physical exercise can enhance the brain’s ability to generate new neurons” or “Those new neurons appear in the hippocampus”, and then look specifically for data that corroborates or refutes those sentences, enabling him or her to refine the hypotheses further, based on accumulated knowledge, in a virtuous learning cycle.

3. Beat your enemies-like excessive TV watching. Watching TV five hours a day has an effect on your brain: it trains one’s brain to become a visual, usually unreflective, passive recipient of information. You may have heard the expression “Cells that fire together wire together”. Our brains are composed of billions of neurons, each of which can have thousand of connections to other neurons. Any thing we do in life is going to activate a specific networks of neurons. Visualize a million neurons firing at the same time when you watch a TV program. Now, the more TV you watch, the more those neurons will fire together, and therefore the more they will wire together (meaning that the connections between them become, physically, stronger), which then creates automatic-like reactions. A heavy TV-watcher is making himself or herself more passive, unreflective, person. Exactly the opposite of what one needs to apply the other tips described here. Continue Reading

Heart Rate Variability as an Index of Regulated Emotional Responding

Continuing with the theme of a Week of Science sponsored by Just Science, we will highlight some of the key points in: Appelhans BM, Luecken LJ. Heart Rate Variability as an Index of Regulated Emotional Responding. Review of General Psychology. 2006;10:229–240.

Defining Heart Rate Variability
Effective emotional regulation depends on being able to flexibly adjust your physiological response to a changing environment.

“… heart rate variability (HRV) is a measure of the continuous interplay between sympathetic and parasympathetic influences on heart rate that yields information about autonomic flexibility and thereby represents the capacity for regulated emotional responding.”

“HRV reflects the degree to which cardiac activity can be modulated to meet changing situational demands.”

The sympathetic (SNS) and parasympathetic (PNS) branches of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) antagonistically influence the lengths of time between consecutive heartbeats. Faster heart rates, which can be due to increased SNS and/or lower PNS activity, correspond to a shorter interbeat interval while slower heart rates have a longer interbeat interval, which can be attributed to increased PNS and/or decreased SNS activity.

The frequency-based HRV analyses are based on the fact that the variations in heart rate produced by SNS and PNS activity occur at different speeds, or frequencies. SNS is slow acting and mediated by norepinephrine while PNS influence is fast acting and mediated by acetylcholine.

Read the rest of this entry »

Memory training and attention deficits: interview with Notre Dame’s Bradley Gibson

Bradley S. Gibson, Ph.D.Professor Bradley Gibson is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at University of Notre Dame, and Director of the Perception and Attention Lab there. He is a cognitive psychologist with research interests in perception, attention, and visual cognition. Gibson’s research has been published in a variety of journals, including Journal of Experimental Psychology, Human Perception and Performance, Psychological Science, and Perception & Psychophysics.

In 2006 he conducted the first independent replication study based on the Cogmed Working Memory Training program we discussed with Dr. Torkel Klingberg.

A local newspaper introduced some preliminary results of the study Attention, please: Memory exercises reduce symptoms of ADHD. Some quotes from the articles:

– “The computer game has been shown to reduce ADHD symptoms in children in experiments conducted in Sweden, where it was developed, and more recently in a Granger school, where it was tested by psychologists from the University of Notre Dame.

– Fifteen students at Discovery Middle School tried RoboMemo during a five-week period in February and March, said lead researcher Brad Gibson

– As a result of that experience, symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity were both reduced, according to reports by teachers and parents, Gibson said.

– Other tests found significant improvement in “working memory”, a short-term memory function that’s considered key to focusing attention and controlling impulses.

– RoboMemo’s effectiveness is not as well established as medications, and it’s a lot more work than popping a pill.

– Gibson said Notre Dame’s study is considered preliminary because it involved a small number of students. Another limitation is that the study did not have a control group of students receiving a placebo treatment.

We feel fortunate to interview Dr. Gibson today.

Alvaro Fernandez (AF): Dr. Gibson, thanks for being with us. Could you first tell us about your overall research interests?

Dr. Bradley Gibson (BG): Thanks for giving me this opportunity. My primary research Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Training with Cognitive Simulations

Today we will continue our review of the benefits of brain training for specific occupations: in this case, pilots and basketball players. The lessons can be relevant not only for corporate training but also for education and brain health & wellness.

To do so, we will select quotes from our interview last year with one of the major scientists in the field of cognitive simulations, Professor Daniel Gopher. You can read the full interview here.

Prof. Gopher published an award-winning article in 1994, Gopher, D., Weil, M. and Baraket, T. (1994), Transfer of skill from a computer game trainer to flight, Human Factors 36, 1–19., that constitutes a key milestone in the cognitive engineering field.

On Cognitive Training and Cognitive Simulations

AF: Tell us a bit about your overall research interests

DG: My main interest has been how to expand the limits of human attention, information processing and response capabilities which are critical in complex, real-time decision-making, high-demand tasks such as flying a military jet or playing professional basketball. Using a tennis analogy, my goal has been, and is, how to help develop many “Wimbledon”-like champions. Each with their own styles, but performing to their maximum capacity to succeed in their environments.

What research over the last 15-20 years has shown is that cognition, or what we call thinking and performance, is really a set of skills that we can train systematically. And that computer-based cognitive trainers or “cognitive simulations” are the most effective and efficient way to do so.

This is an important point, so let me emphasize it. What we have discovered is that a key factor for an effective transfer from training environment to reality is that the training program ensures “Cognitive Fidelity“, this is, it should faithfully represent the mental demands that happen in the real world. Traditional approaches focus instead on Read the rest of this entry »

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