Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Executive Functions, Education and Alzheimer’s Disease

I just read a very inter­est­ing arti­cle in Newsweek: Exec­u­tive Func­tions: The School Skill That May Mat­ter More Than IQ. A few quotes:

- “But recent advances in psy­chol­o­gy and brain sci­ence are now sug­gest­ing that a child’s abil­i­ty to inhib­it dis­tract­ing thoughts and stay focused may be a fun­da­men­tal cog­ni­tive skill, one that plays a big part in aca­d­e­m­ic suc­cess from The Executive Brain by Elkhonon Goldbergpreschool on. Indeed, this and close­ly relat­ed skills may be more impor­tant than tra­di­tion­al IQ in pre­dict­ing a child’s school per­for­mance.”

- “EF (exec­u­tive func­tions) com­pris­es not only effort­ful con­trol and cog­ni­tive focus but also work­ing mem­o­ry and men­tal flex­i­bil­i­ty the abil­i­ty to adjust to change, to think out­side the box.”

- “When the teacher holds up a cir­cle they clap, with a tri­an­gle they hop, and so forth. The kids are taught to talk them­selves through the men­tal exer­cise: “OK, now clap.” “Twirl now.” This has been shown to flex and enhance the brain’s abil­i­ty to switch gears, to sup­press one piece of infor­ma­tion and sub in a new one. It takes dis­ci­pline; it’s the ele­men­tary school equiv­a­lent of say­ing “I real­ly need stop think­ing about next week’s vaca­tion and focus on this report.”

The main points: exec­u­tive func­tions are cru­cial for suc­cess in life, AND they can be trained. I could­n’t agree more with the arti­cle in that cog­ni­tive train­ing should be part of the edu­ca­tion cur­ricu­lum and receive more research dol­lars to deter­mine exact­ly how to best do so.

I read anoth­er very inter­est­ing arti­cle on Alzheimer’s Dis­ease. Which may look like a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent top­ic than the one above…but please bear with me. Read the rest of this entry »

SmartBrains, Becoming Smarter, and Intelligence

The MIT Tech­nol­o­gy Review September/ Octo­ber edi­tion brings an arti­cle by Daniel Den­nett titled High­er Games: It’s been 10 years since IBM’s Deep Blue beat Gar­ry Kas­parov in chess. A promi­nent philoso­pher asks what the match meant (sub­scrip­tion required), which is cre­at­ing a lot of buzz on the sci­ence blo­gos­phere on whether humans or machines are “smarter”.

GABA ReceptorAll this begs the ques­tion, what does “being smart” means? “Is it pos­si­ble to improve intel­li­gence and become “smarter” and what does it real­ly mean to be “smarter?” (ques­tion asked by Patri­cia, one of our read­ers).

Today we bring you an answer to those ques­tions pro­vid­ed by David Gamon, author of Build­ing Men­tal Mus­cle: Con­di­tion­ing Exer­cis­es for the Six Intel­li­gence Zones:


As we age, our brains accu­mu­late an ever larg­er col­lec­tion of pat­terns. This gives us a kind of men­tal quick­ness that com­pen­sates for the slow­ing of pro­cess­ing speed. Instead of hav­ing to piece togeth­er the pat­tern bit by bit from scratch by asso­ci­at­ing indi­vid­ual pieces of data, you need only a few pieces of data to make you real­ize that they fit a pat­tern you already know, much the way a few bars of melody are all you need to rec­og­nize an entire song.

The more expe­ri­ence we accu­mu­late, the more of these pat­terns we hold in our brains, and the less effort we have to make to piece togeth­er new pieces of data in new ways. With that comes a dan­ger. We get lazy. It’s a lot eas­i­er to Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Health Newsletter, February Edition, and Brain Awareness Week

We hope you are enjoy­ing the grow­ing cov­er­age of Brain Fit­ness as much as we are. Below you have the Brain Fit­ness Newslet­ter we sent a few days ago-you can sub­scribe to this month­ly email update in the box on the right hand side.

In this post, we will briefly cov­er:

I. Press: see what CBS and Time Mag­a­zine are talk­ing about. Sharp­Brains was intro­duced in the Birm­ing­ham News, Chica­go Tri­bune and in a quick note car­ried by the Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal Asso­ci­a­tion news ser­vice.

II. Events: we are out­reach part­ners for the Learn­ing & the Brain con­fer­ence, which will gath­er neu­ro­sci­en­tists and edu­ca­tors, and for the Dana Foundation’s Brain Aware­ness Week.

III. Pro­gram Reviews: The Wall Street Jour­nal reviewed six dif­fer­ent pro­grams for brain exer­cise and aging, and the one we offer is one of the two win­ners. A col­lege-lev­el coun­sel­ing cen­ter starts offer­ing our stress man­age­ment one. And we inter­view a Notre Dame sci­en­tist who has con­duct­ed a repli­ca­tion study for the work­ing mem­o­ry train­ing pro­gram for kids with ADD/ ADHD.

IV. New Offer­ings: we have start­ed to offer two infor­ma­tion pack­ages that can be very use­ful for peo­ple who want to bet­ter under­stand this field before they com­mit to any par­tic­u­lar pro­gram: learn more about our Brain Fit­ness 101 guide and Exer­cise Your Brain DVD.

V. Web­site and Blog Sum­ma­ry: we revamped our home page and have had a very busy month writ­ing many good arti­cles. We also host­ed two “Blog Car­ni­vals”- don’t you want to know what that means?
Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Learning & The Brain Conference, February 15–17th in San Francisco

For infor­ma­tion on the 2008 Con­fer­ence, and the dis­count for Sharp­Brains read­ers, vis­it: Learn­ing & The Brain Con­fer­ence: dis­count for Sharp­Brains read­ers.

The post below refers to the 2007 Con­fer­ence:


The orga­niz­ers of this amaz­ing con­fer­ence, whose reg­is­tra­tion is about to expire, just extend­ed their very kind offer to Sharp­Brains read­ers: you can reg­is­ter at the reduced price of $475 (right now the nor­mal price is $545) if you do so by Feb­ru­ary 9nd. You can reg­is­ter here, mak­ing sure to write SharpBrains1 in the com­ments sec­tion

This is what we wrote about the con­fer­ence:

Talk about neu­ro­science applied to edu­ca­tion: we will be report­ing from a fas­ci­nat­ing con­fer­ence in San Fran­cis­co, Feb­ru­ary 15–17, titled Learn­ing & the Brain: Enhanc­ing Cog­ni­tion and Emo­tions for Learn­ing And Stu­dent Per­for­mance, spon­sored by lead­ing uni­ver­si­ties and the Dana Alliance for Brain Ini­tia­tives.

  • Speak­ers include a tru­ly “Dream Team” of neu­ro­sci­en­tists and edu­ca­tors such as Michael S. Gaz­zani­ga, William C. Mob­ley, John D.E. Gabrieli, Robert M. Sapol­sky, Robert Syl­west­er, and many many oth­ers. You can check the pro­gram here
  • The descrip­tion of the event is: “Use this explo­sion of sci­en­tif­ic knowl­edge to cre­ate new, pow­er­ful par­a­digms for teach­ing and health­care. Cut­ting-edge dis­cov­er­ies in neu­ro­science may soon trans­form edu­ca­tion­al and clin­i­cal inter­ven­tions by enhanc­ing mem­o­ry and cog­ni­tion. Dis­cov­er the influ­ences of emo­tions, gen­der and the arts. Explore new ways to enhance cog­ni­tion and to assess poten­tial ben­e­fits and pit­falls of using phar­ma­col­o­gy, tech­nol­o­gy and ther­a­py to boost per­for­mance.”

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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

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