Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Meditation and The Brain

Superb blog article by Newsweek’s Sharon Begley: The Lotus and the Synapse, introducing a new Study that shows compassion meditation changes the brain.

To read the original paper led by Richard Davidson and Antoine Lutz, click Here. We will be covering this in more detail next week.

Brain Fitness/ Training Newsletter: January Edition

Brain exercise, brain exercisesAs we have been doing for the last 6 months, here you are have the Monthly Digest of our Most Popular Blog Posts. You can consider it your monthly Brain Fitness/ Training Newsletter.

(Also, remember that you can subscribe to receive our blog RSS feed, or to our monthly newsletter at the top of this page if you want to receive this Monthly Digest by email).

Let me first introduce our new roster of Expert Contributors, highlighting first an article by Duke University’s Dr. David Rabiner, a leading authority on attention deficits and author of the Attention Research Update newsletter, on the “promising, yet unproven” value of neurofeedback for attention deficits: How Strong is the Research Support for Neurofeedback.

Two other great articles by our Expert Contributors this month:

Looking inside the Brain: cognitive scientist Dr. Pascale Michelon introduces us to the world of neuroimaging and building mental reserves.

Meditation in Schools: thanks to our collaboration with Greater Good Magazine, we offer an excellent article on the emerging trend of schools using meditation to help students manage anxiety and stress.

The following Expert Contributors will be featured in February, so make sure to visit our blog often:

Wes Carroll, Puzzle Master for Ask a Scientist lecture series.

Simon Evans, PhD., and Paul Burghardt, PhD., from University of Michigan’s Department of Psychiatry and the Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute.

Gregory Kellett, masters in Cognitive Neurology/Research Psychology from SFSU and researcher at UCSF.

Joanne Jacobs, education expert and blogger, will participate in the “SharpBrains Author Speaks Series” to present her most recent book.

Eric Jensen, well-known resource on brain research information with implications for K12 education.

Tom O’Brien, Professor Emeritus in Mathematics education and author of prize-winning games.

Adrian Preda, M.D., Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the UC Irvine School of Medicine.

Joshua Steinerman, M.D., Postdoctoral Clinical Fellow in the Department of Neurology at Columbia University Medical Center.

Brain Fitness and SharpBrains in the News

Brain Fitness Software Trends (January 3rd): Scientific Learning Corp. (cognitive training for children with dislexia and reading difficulties) acquires Soliloquy Learning, and Paris-based Scientific Brain Training acquires Technomedia, a Canadian provider of corporate training.

More News on the Field (January 14th): Posit Science (auditory processing training) acquires Visual Awareness, Inc (visual processing training for driving skills, used in ACTIVE trials). Cogmed announces working memory training for adults. Nature Neuroscience brings great resources on the classic London Taxi Drivers study. The 2008 Mind & Life Summer Research Institute starts accepting applications by researchers interested in studying the effects of meditation on the brain.

SharpBrains Featured in Newsweek & Fox Business Network (January 19th): several great articles on the emerging brain fitness/ training field. New Scientist (subscription-only) provides a broad picture of the research. Newsweek kindly invites readers to “check out, which promotes science-based cognitive training”. Fox Business Network includes our market estimates of $225 million for the whole brain fitness software field in 2007 in the US. The New York Times has a great article on the value of music training.

Is Your Brain Ready To Drink Cheap Wine?: Prof. Baba Shiv, one of our advisors, published a fascinating paper on the power of our beliefs to influence brain activation, and on how marketing can influence those beliefs.

Sharpen Your Brain to Improve Performance, Lower Stress (subscription required): Nicholas Genes from Medscape interviews me on the background behind cognitive fitness and

Health and Wellness

It is Not Only Cars That Deserve Good Maintenance: If we can all agree on the importance of maintaining our cars that get us around town, what about maintaining our brains sitting behind the wheel?.

Grand Rounds: Briefing the Next US President on 40 Health Issues: we hosted an open letter to the “Next US President”, gathering the questions and impressions of 40 health and medical bloggers. We will do the same on Education issues on February 20th-see below.

Cognitive Training Clinical Trial: Seeking Older Adults:  Neuroscientists at Columbia University Medical Center asked for help in recruiting volunteers for an exciting clinical trial. If you are based in New York City, and between the ages of 60 and 75, please consider joining this study.

10 Brain Fitness New Year’s Resolutions: probably a bit late…but contains potential New Years Resolutions with the three principles of brain fitness in mind – novelty, variety and challenge.


Interview with Robert Sylwester on The Adolescent Brain: Dr. Robert Sylwester is an educator of educators, having received multiple awards during his long career as a master communicator of the implications of brain science research for education and learning. Enjoy this interview.

Don’t Outsource Your Brain: neither to other people… nor to your GPS system. Funny, true story.

February 20th Blog Carnival of education: we will host this edition and present it as an open letter to the “Next US President”, gathering the questions and impressions of a number of education bloggers.


20 Brain Plasticity Books: we just changed a few things in our site, including preparing a more solid Resources section. Please take a look at the navigation bar at the top, including an expanded Books page.

PBS Brain Fitness DVD: the PBS shop is already selling DVDs of its great December special on Brain Fitness and Neuroplasticity.

Brain Teasers

Monkeys and Brain Games: did you read about the recent experiment where young chimps displayed amazing visual working memory capability, beating humans? you can release your competitive juices here.

Brain Exercises for the Weekend: Harriet Vines, Ph.D., an experienced author and retired college professor, sends us a few fun brain exercises to train our attention and working memory.

Events and Speaking Engagements (more details in our Speaking page)

>> Feb. 2th: I will lead a Workshop on Brain Fitness: The Science and Practice, sponsored by San Jose State University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

>> Feb. 7th: will speak on “Sharpening Minds through Computerized Cognitive and Emotional Training Programs,” at the Learning & The Brain Conference.

>> Feb. 12th: will speak on The Emerging Brain Fitness Software Market: Building Better Brains: sponsored by The MIT Club of Northern California, American Society on Aging, The Business Forum on Aging and SmartSilvers, we will cover how “Scientific, technological and demographic trends have converged to create an exciting new market in brain fitness, where software and online applications can assess and train cognitive abilities.”

>> March 4th: I will be a panelist on how to Use Your Head-The Future of Mind Hacks, at O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference.

>> March 27th, 2008: will present an Overview of Cognitive Training Research and Programs, at the NCOA/ ASA Aging in America Conference.

David Pescovitz, Research Director, Institute for the Future, says “Alvaro Fernandez synthesizes and translates the latest neuroscience into provocative, compelling, and entertaining stories of mental fitness and the future of the brain.” Please contact us, simply responding to this email, if your organization is interested in learning more about Brain and Cognitive Fitness and this emerging field.

All feedback and contributions are welcome, too. Please leave your comments below.

Brain Training: No Magic Bullet, Yet Useful Tool. Interview with Elizabeth Zelinski

Sharon Begley, Newsweek’s science reporter, recently wrote that

– “With the nation’s 78 million baby boomers approaching the age of those dreaded ‘“where did I leave my keys?” moments, it’s no wonder the market for computer-based brain training has shot up from essentially zero in 2005 to $80 million this year, according to the consulting firm SharpBrains.

– “Now comes the largest and most rigorous study of a commercially-available training program, and it shows that there is hope for aging brains. This morning, at the meeting of the Gerontological Society of America, scientists are presenting data showing that after eight weeks of daily one-hour sessions with Brain Fitness 2.0 from Posit Science, elderly volunteers got measurably better in their brain’s speed and accuracy of processElizabeth Zelinski IMPACTing.

We recently had the chance to interview Dr. Elizabeth Zelinski of the University of Southern California Andrus Gerontology Center, who led the IMPACT (Improvement in Memory with Plasticity-based Adaptive Cognitive Training) Study Sharon Begley refers to in the quote above.

First, some context on this study, which is by far the largest high-quality study of its kind. The study was prospective, randomized, controlled, and used a double blind trial. 524 healthy adults 65-year-old and over were divided into two groups. One received an hour a day of training for eight to ten weeks, and the other spent the same amount of time watching educational DVDs. The IMPACT study, funded by Posit Science corporation, was performed in multiple locations, including the Mayo Clinic, USCF, and San Francisco Veteran Affairs Medical Center.

The discussion centers at his point on the initial results that were presented Gerontological Society of America (the study hasn’t been published yet).

Alvaro Fernandez: Dr. Zelinski. Thank you for being with us. Could you start by setting the context and providing an overview of how human cognitive abilities typically evolve as we age based on insights from your Long Beach Longitudinal Study?

Elizabeth Zelinski: Of course. The first concept to understand is that different cognitive skills evolve over the lifespan in different ways. Some that rely on experience, such as vocabulary, actually improve as we age. Some tend to decline gradually, starting in our late 20s. This happens, for example, with processing speed (how long it takes us to process and respond to information), memory, and reasoning. We could summarize this phenomenon by saying that as we age we get better at dealing with the familiar, but worse at dealing with the new. We can always learn, but at a slower pace.

Are there any specific tipping or inflection points in this trend, any age when the rate of decline is more pronounced?

We don’t have a clear answer to that. It depends a lot on the individual. In general it is a gradual, cumulative process, so that by age 70 we statistically see clear age declines. Which, for example, is a strong factor determining why older adults struggle to adapt to new technologies, but why trying to learn them provides needed mental stimulation. Now we know that genes only account for a portion of this decline. Much of it depends on our environment, lifestyle and actions.

Can you summarize what a healthy individual can do to slow down this process of decline, and help stay healthy and productive as long as possible?

One general recommendation is to do everything we can to prevent or delay disease processes, such as diabetes or high-blood pressure, that have a negative effect on our brains. For example, it is a tragedy in our society that we usually reduce our levels of physical exercise drastically after we leave school.

Let me then ask: what are the relative virtues of physical vs. mental exercise?

Great question! That in fact leads into my second recommendation. Aerobic exercise has been shown to Read the rest of this entry »

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