Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Did You See the Gorilla? An Interview with Psychologist Daniel Simons

If you’ve spent any time on YouTube over the last few years (and you know you have), you’ve like­ly seen the video of the invis­i­ble goril­la exper­i­ment (if you’ve some­how missed it, catch your­self up here). The researchers who con­duct­ed that study, Dan Simons and Chris Chabris, didn’t real­ize that they were about to cre­ate an instant classic—a psy­chol­o­gy study men­tioned along­side the greats, and known well out­side the slim con­fines of psych wonks. Mil­gram taught us about our sheep­ish obe­di­ence to author­i­ty; Mis­chel used marsh­mal­lows to teach us about delayed grat­i­fi­ca­tion; and Simons and Chabris used a faux goril­la to teach us that we are not the mas­ters of atten­tion we think we are.

The duo’s new book Read the rest of this entry »

Update: Know Thyself, Know How Your Brain Works

What is work­ing mem­o­ry, and why it mat­ters? Can we mul­ti-task as good as we seem to assume? What should we all know about how our brains work, and why?

We hope you enjoy this August eNewslet­ter, fea­tur­ing six dis­tin­guished con­trib­u­tors who answer those ques­tions, and more. Please remem­ber that you can sub­scribe to receive this free Brain Fit­ness eNewslet­ter by email, using the box in the right col­umn.

Know Thy­self

Why work­ing mem­o­ry mat­ters in the knowl­edge age: As Dr. Tra­cy Alloway points out, one way to visu­al­ize work­ing mem­o­ry is as the brain’s “Post-it Notes” — we make men­tal scrib­bles of bits of infor­ma­tion we need to remem­ber and work with. With­out enough work­ing mem­o­ry we can­not func­tion as a soci­ety or as indi­vid­u­als. Learn more by par­tic­i­pat­ing in this study launched by Dr. Alloway’s team in con­junc­tion with the British Sci­ence Fes­ti­val.

What should every­one learn about the brain?: Dr. Jo Ellen Rose­man and Mary Kop­pel from the Amer­i­can Asso­ci­a­tion for the Advance­ment of Sci­ence (AAAS) dis­cuss recent rec­om­men­da­tions on what all stu­dents should know. Not just the basics of brain struc­ture and func­tion, but also a good under­stand­ing of men­tal health—such as the mind/body rela­tion­ship, fac­tors that shape behav­ior, ways of cop­ing with men­tal dis­tress, and the diag­no­sis and treat­ment of men­tal dis­or­ders.

News

Pool­ing data to accel­er­ate Alzheimer’s research: A good arti­cle in the New York Times presents the rea­sons behind grow­ing research of how to detect Alzheimer’s Dis­ease. A pilot study shows how com­put­er­ized cog­ni­tive train­ing may help reduce falls among elder­ly. Amazon.com rec­om­mends The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness in a thought-pro­vok­ing mix.

Beyond News

Need­ed: fund­ing for inno­v­a­tive research on slow­ing cog­ni­tive decline via cog­ni­tive train­ing: Sharp­Brains read­er and UK researcher Nick Almond shares a note debunk­ing the so-called BBC brain train­ing exper­i­ment  and out­lin­ing the type of research he and col­leagues at Leeds Uni­ver­si­ty deem nec­es­sary.

Long-term effects of neu­ro­feed­back treat­ment for ADHD: Dr. David Rabin­er reviews the 6-month fol­low-up of a sci­en­tif­ic study on whether neu­ro­feed­back can help kids with atten­tion deficits, find­ing that ben­e­fits indeed remained 6 months after treat­ment had end­ed. Giv­en, how­ev­er, that only around 50% of chil­dren showed ben­e­fits, it is impor­tant to regard this tool as part of a mul­ti­modal treat­ment pro­gram.

Brain Teas­er

Test your atten­tion­al focus and mul­ti-task­ing: How often do you read a doc­u­ment while talk­ing on the phone with a client? Or think about your prob­lems at work while help­ing your child with his home­work? Human atten­tion is lim­it­ed, and we need to man­age it well, as shown in this teas­er pre­pared by Dr. Pas­cale Mich­e­lon.

Have a great Sep­tem­ber. And, should you hap­pen to be in Barcelona, Spain, on Sep­tem­ber 14th, make sure to attend Alvaro Fer­nan­dez talk there titled “How and Why Dig­i­tal Tech­nol­o­gy Will Trans­form Edu­ca­tion, Train­ing and Brain Health”.

Test your attentional focus: is multi-tasking a good thing?

aaHow often do you lis­ten to the office gos­sip while fill­ing in forms? Or read a doc­u­ment while talk­ing on the phone with a client? Or think about your prob­lems at work while help­ing your child with his home­work?

We are con­stant­ly assault­ed by lots of infor­ma­tion and often required to per­form sev­er­al tasks at once. It is not easy to stay focused. How­ev­er being able to stay focused is cru­cial to achieve suc­cess. Indeed, if you are lis­ten­ing to the office gos­sip while fill­ing in forms, you will prob­a­bly make mis­takes. If you try to read a doc­u­ment while talk­ing on the phone with a client, you will prob­a­bly sound dis­tant and unin­ter­est­ed to your client and may not get the con­tract you expect­ed to get. If you think about your prob­lems at work while help­ing your child with his home­work, you will prob­a­bly miss oppor­tu­ni­ties to teach her some­thing.

As you may notice all the sit­u­a­tions above involve doing more than one thing at a time. Mul­ti-task­ing is ene­my num­ber one when it comes to accu­rate and speedy per­for­mance.

Human atten­tion is lim­it­ed. Think about your atten­tion­al focus as the beam of a light. If the light is on an object it can­not be on oth­er objects at the same time with the same inten­si­ty. Only dim light will be avail­able to light up the objects in the periph­ery. The same hap­pens in your atten­tion­al sys­tem. Divid­ing atten­tion results in less atten­tion­al pow­er devot­ed to all the dif­fer­ent tasks that you are try­ing to do at the same time. The more tasks, the less atten­tion can be devot­ed to each. The result is more errors and waste of time. Although we all have the feel­ing that mul­ti­task­ing saves us time, it is often not the case.

Try the exer­cise below to test your atten­tion­al focus. Three words have been com­bined to make this grid of let­ters. How many times does each of these words appear…? Can you com­pare your per­for­mance while search­ing for just one word vs. two of them at the same time?

How many times is the word SUN shown?
How many times is the word BUS shown?
How many times is the word NONE shown?

Solu­tions: Read the rest of this entry »

Stimulating Minds, Stimulating Links

Just a quick note to announce a new Sil­ver Spon­sor of the Sharp­Brains Sum­mit, and link to a cou­ple stim­u­lat­ing online con­ver­sa­tions.

iftf-logoThe Insti­tute For the Future is an inde­pen­dent, non­prof­it strate­gic research group with more than 40 years of fore­cast­ing expe­ri­ence. The core of our work is iden­ti­fy­ing emerg­ing trends and dis­con­ti­nu­ities that will trans­form glob­al soci­ety and the glob­al mar­ket­place. We pro­vide our mem­bers with insights into busi­ness strat­e­gy, design process, inno­va­tion, and social dilem­mas. Our research spans a broad ter­ri­to­ry of deeply trans­for­ma­tive trends, from health and health care to tech­nol­o­gy, the work­place, and human iden­ti­ty. The Insti­tute for the Future is locat­ed in Palo Alto, Cal­i­for­nia.

I have been col­lab­o­rat­ing infor­mal­ly with IFTF projects for a few years, and it is excit­ing to col­lab­o­rate on the upcom­ing Sum­mit and relat­ed work.

Now, two stim­u­lat­ing links:

1) Ency­clo­pe­dia Bri­tan­ni­ca Blog is host­ing an online con­ver­sa­tion on Mul­ti-task­ing:

Mul­ti­task­ing” remem­ber when that was some­thing com­put­ers did? They were sup­posed to do it for our ben­e­fit, to make our lives eas­i­er, but some­how it hasn’t quite worked out that way. With fast com­put­ers, the Inter­net, and smart phones in our pock­ets, today we’re always teth­ered to The Net­work, and some­times it seems we’re doing its bid­ding instead of it doing ours. There’s so much to do, it comes at us so fast, and it all has to be done now. The solu­tion: for­get what you were taught about doing one thing at a time and start doing sev­er­al things at once. Call your office from the express­way. Bring that Black­ber­ry to the meet­ing. Answer e-mails over din­ner. Mul­ti­task.

Of course, whether mul­ti­task­ing real­ly is effi­cient is a mat­ter both of pub­lic debate and clin­i­cal research, and it’s just one of the ques­tions we plan to get into next week in a new forum on the sub­ject here at the Bri­tan­ni­ca Blog.”

You can par­tic­i­pate Here.

2) For extra brain & mind read­ing, you can vis­it  yesterday’s Encephalon edi­tion at The Mouse Trap. Enjoy!

8 Tips To Remember What You Read

Horizontal Stacked BooksDespite tele­vi­sion, cell phones, and Twit­ter, tra­di­tion­al read­ing is still an impor­tant skill. Whether it is school text­books, mag­a­zines, or reg­u­lar books, peo­ple still read, though not as much as they used to. One rea­son that many peo­ple don’t read much is that they don’t read well. For them, it is slow, hard work and they don’t remem­ber as much as they should. Stu­dents, for example,may have to read some­thing sev­er­al times before they under­stand and remem­ber what they read.

Why? You would think that schools teach kids how to read well. Schools do try. I work with mid­dle-school teach­ers and they tell me that many stu­dents are 2–3 years behind grade lev­el in read­ing pro­fi­cien­cy. No doubt, tele­vi­sion, cell phones, and the Web are major con­trib­u­tors to this prob­lem, which will appar­ent­ly get worse if we don’t empha­size and improve read­ing instruc­tion.

Some of the blame can be placed on the fads in read­ing teach­ing, such as phon­ics and “whole lan­guage,” which some­times are pro­mot­ed by zealots who don’t respect the need for both approach­es. Much of the blame for poor read­ing skills can be laid at the feet of par­ents who set poor exam­ples and, of course, on the young­sters who are too lazy to learn how to read well.

For all those who missed out on good read­ing skills, it is not too late. I sum­ma­rize below what I think it takes to read with good speed and com­pre­hen­sion.

  1. Read with a pur­pose.
  2. Skim first.
  3. Get the read­ing mechan­ics right.
  4. Be judi­cious in high­light­ing and note tak­ing.
  5. Think in pic­tures.
  6. Rehearse as you go along.
  7. Stay with­in your atten­tion span and work to increase that span.
  8. Rehearse again soon.

1) Know Your Pur­pose

Every­one should have a pur­pose for their read­ing and think about how that pur­pose is being ful­filled dur­ing the actu­al read­ing. The advan­tage for remem­ber­ing is that check­ing con­tin­u­ous­ly for how the pur­pose is being ful­filled helps the read­er to stay on task, to focus on the more rel­e­vant parts of the text, and to rehearse con­tin­u­ous­ly as one reads. This also saves time and effort because rel­e­vant items are most attend­ed.

Iden­ti­fy­ing the pur­pose should be easy if you freely choose what to read. Just ask your­self, “Why am I read­ing this?” If it is to be enter­tained or pass the time, then there is not much prob­lem. But myr­i­ad oth­er rea­sons could apply, such as:

  • to under­stand a cer­tain group of peo­ple, such as Mus­lims, Jews, Hin­dus, etc.
  • to crys­tal­lize your polit­i­cal posi­tion, such as why a giv­en gov­ern­ment pol­i­cy should be opposed.
  • to devel­op an informed plan or pro­pos­al.
  • to sat­is­fy a require­ment of an aca­d­e­m­ic course or oth­er assigned read­ing.

Many of us have read­ings assigned to us, as in a school envi­ron­ment. Or the boss may hand us a man­u­al and say Read the rest of this entry »

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