Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Learning with Video Games: A Revolution in Education and Training?

In recent years, we have wit­nessed the begin­nings of a rev­o­lu­tion in edu­ca­tion.  Tech­nol­o­gy has fun­da­men­tal­ly altered the way we do many things in dai­ly life, but it is just start­ing to make head­way in chang­ing the way we teach.  Just as tele­vi­sion shows like Sesame Street enhanced the pas­sive learn­ing of infor­ma­tion for kids by teach­ing in a fun for­mat, elec­tron­ic games offer to great­ly enhance the way kids and adults are taught by active­ly engag­ing them in the process. Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Games and Training for Baby Boomers: News Round-Up

Round-up of recent news with a vari­ety of angles, from the effects of Brain Health Newsgam­ing to cog­ni­tive train­ing for dri­ving skills and brain fit­ness class­es.

Seniors use brain train­ing soft­ware to sharp­en their minds (Dal­las Morn­ing News)

- “All­state Insur­ance has invit­ed some pol­i­cy­hold­ers and oth­er old­er dri­vers to try InSight so researchers can eval­u­ate whether the soft­ware reduces acci­dents.”

- “Depend­ing on the results, the auto insur­er says it may expand the pilot project and offer pre­mi­um dis­counts to dri­vers who take the brain train­ing.”

- “Today, only one in sev­en licensed dri­vers is 65 or old­er. But by 2030, when the last of the boomers turn 65, the pro­por­tion will be one in four. ”

Brain games (Palo Alto Week­ly)

- “There is research that jus­ti­fies the belief that games can aid the brain’s health, accord­ing to Dr. Wal­ter Bortz II, a Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty School of Med­i­cine asso­ciate pro­fes­sor and expert on longevi­ty and robust aging. Stud­ies show that stim­u­lat­ing the brain by learn­ing new tasks increas­es blood fac­tors in the brain that act like steroids, mak­ing it pos­si­ble for the brain to grow even in old age

- “Called “brain plas­tic­i­ty,” such growth is the foun­da­tion of brain-fit­ness soft­ware research.”

Brain Fit­ness Class­es Keep Seniors Men­tal­ly And Social­ly Active (Wash­ing­ton Post)

- “More options for exer­cis­ing the brain are on the way. Last year, the Ontario gov­ern­ment pledged about $8 mil­lion to devel­op a brain fit­ness cen­ter in Toron­to. In San Fran­cis­co, Jan Zivic, a for­mer exec­u­tive search con­sul­tant, opened a cen­ter, vibrant­Brains, that offers mem­o­ry improve­ment class­es and work­shops. Zivic was inspired by help she got from brain fit­ness games she played after being injured in an auto­mo­bile acci­dent.”

The 15 Clear­est Ben­e­fits of Gam­ing (Edge Mag­a­zine)

-“But Fer­nan­dez warns that the gamer gen­er­a­tion isn’t auto­mat­i­cal­ly guar­an­teed to have bet­ter cog­ni­tive health than their grand­par­ents. Cog­ni­tive fit­ness (hav­ing the men­tal abil­i­ties required to thrive in cog­ni­tive­ly more com­plex envi­ron­ments) seems to depend on four major pil­lars: nutri­tion, phys­i­cal exer­cise, stress man­age­ment and men­tal exer­cise. All these fac­tors have phys­i­cal effects on our brains (for exam­ple, phys­i­cal exer­cise con­tributes to the cre­ation of new neu­rons, while stress and anx­i­ety pre­vents and/or reduces the cre­ation of new neu­rons). The bad news is that we have grow­ing obe­si­ty rates and anx­i­ety among young peo­ple. So, games are great for men­tal exer­cise, but we shouldn’t for­get the oth­er ingre­di­ents for cog­ni­tive fit­ness.

- “Fer­nan­dez mus­es, Indeed fun can be seen as a goal in itself . The prob­lem is that we con­fuse gam­ing as a vehi­cle with gam­ing as con­tent. Gam­ing as vehi­cle is arguably great it allows for inter­ac­tiv­i­ty, engage­ment. Gam­ing as con­tent, well, it depends. It is not the same to play a bloody shoot­er game as it is to Tetris or Rise of Nations, so the field should do a bet­ter job at explain­ing to main­stream soci­ety the diver­si­ty of games and dis­pel some myths.

More Brain Fit­ness and Cog­ni­tive Health News

Nintendo Brain Age/ Training vs. Crossword Puzzles

Nin­ten­do brain-train­er ‘no bet­ter than pen­cil and paper’ (The Times):
“The sur­vey of ten-year-old chil­dren found no evi­dence to sup­port claims in Nintendo’s adver­tis­ing cam­paign, fea­tur­ing Nicole Kid­man, that users can test and reju­ve­nate their grey cells. The Nin­ten­do DS is a tech­no­log­i­cal jew­el. As a game it’s fine, said Alain Lieury, pro­fes­sor of cog­ni­tive psy­chol­o­gy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Rennes, Brit­tany, who con­duct­ed the sur­vey. But it is char­la­tanism to claim that it is a sci­en­tif­ic test.

Com­ments: as we have said before, Nin­ten­do Brain Age and Brain Train­ing should be seen as what they are: a game. And the con­struct of one’s hav­ing a  “brain age” makes no sense.

Hav­ing said that, the researcher quot­ed then offers, out of the blue, a high­ly inac­cu­rate state­ment:

The study test­ed Nintendo’s claims on 67 ten-year-olds. “That’s the age where you have the best chance of improve­ment,” Pro­fes­sor Lieury said. “If it doesn’t work on chil­dren, it won’t work on adults.”

That asser­tion (that some­thing won’t “work” on adults because it won’t “work” on kids) makes even less sense than hav­ing a “brain age”. The Cog­ni­tive Reserve research shows the need for life­long men­tal stim­u­la­tion — and the real­i­ty is that kids are more exposed to nov­el­ty and chal­lenge all the time, where­as old­er adults may not be. Fur­ther, that claim (some­thing that doesn’t “work” on kids won’t “work” on adults) has already been test­ed and proven wrong:

In a cou­ple of recent tri­als, dis­cussed here, the same strat­e­gy game (Rise of Nations, a com­plex chal­lenge for exec­u­tive func­tions), played for the same num­ber of hours (23)  showed quite impres­sive (untrained) cog­ni­tive ben­e­fits in peo­ple over 60 — and no ben­e­fits in peo­ple in their 20s.

How can this be? Well, we often say that our brains need nov­el­ty, vari­ety and chal­lenge — and it should be obvi­ous that those ingre­di­ents depend on who we are Read the rest of this entry »

Are videogames good for YOU? Depends on who YOU are

Two recent sci­en­tif­ic stud­ies pub­lished by Dr. Arthur Kramer and col­leagues present Rise of Nations Arthur Kramerfas­ci­nat­ing results. The two stud­ies are:

1) Basak C, et al “Can train­ing in a real-time strat­e­gy video game atten­u­ate cog­ni­tive decline in old­er adults?” Psy­chol Aging 2008; DOI: 10.1037/a0013494.

2) Boot, W. R., Kramer, A. F., Simons, D. J., Fabi­ani, M. & Grat­ton, G. (2008) The effects of video game play­ing on atten­tion, mem­o­ry, and exec­u­tive con­trol. Acta Psy­cho­log­i­ca, 129, 387–398.

Let’s first review the first study, a sig­nif­i­cant exper­i­ment in that it showed wide cog­ni­tive ben­e­fits in adults over 60 years old who played a strat­e­gy videogame (Rise of Nations) for 23 hours.

Play­ing com­put­er games improves brain pow­er of old­er adults, claim sci­en­tists (Tele­graph)

- The team at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois recruit­ed 40 adults over 60 years old, half of whom were asked to play a com­put­er game called Rise of Nations, a role-play­ing game in which you have to build your own empire.

- Game play­ers have to build cities, feed and employ their peo­ple, main­tain an ade­quate mil­i­tary and expand their ter­ri­to­ry.

- Both groups were assessed before, dur­ing and after the video game train­ing on a vari­ety of tests.

- As a group, the “gamers” became sig­nif­i­cant­ly bet­ter and faster at Read the rest of this entry »

Games for Brain Health — Novelty, Variety and Challenge

Land­mark study just pub­lished: Basak C, et al “Can train­ing in a real-time strat­e­gy video game atten­u­ate cog­ni­tive decline in old­er adults?” Psy­chol Aging 2008; DOI: 10.1037/a0013494.

Play­ing com­put­er games improves brain pow­er of old­er adults, claim sci­en­tists (Tele­graph)

- The team at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois recruit­ed 40 adults over 60 years old, half of whom were asked to play a com­put­er game called Rise of Nations, a role-play­ing game in which you have to build your own empire.

- Game play­ers have to build cities, feed and employ their peo­ple, main­tain an ade­quate mil­i­tary and expand their ter­ri­to­ry.

- Both groups were assessed before, dur­ing and after the video game train­ing on a vari­ety of tests.

- As a group, the “gamers” became sig­nif­i­cant­ly bet­ter – and faster – at switch­ing between tasks as com­pared to the com­par­i­son group. Their work­ing mem­o­ry, as reflect­ed in the tests, was also sig­nif­i­cant­ly improved and their rea­son­ing abil­i­ty was enhanced.

- (Pro­fes­sor Art Kramer, an author of the study pub­lished in the jour­nal Psy­chol­o­gy & Aging) “This is one mode in which old­er peo­ple can stay men­tal­ly fit, cog­ni­tive­ly fit. I’m not sug­gest­ing, how­ev­er, that it’s the only thing they should do.”

Pro­fes­sor Kramer and I dis­cussed this study last June dur­ing our con­ver­sa­tion on Why We Need Walk­ing Book Clubs:

Ques­tion (me): Tell us more about your work with cog­ni­tive train­ing for old­er adults.

Answer (Prof Kramer): We have now a study in press where we eval­u­ate the effect of a com­mer­cial­ly avail­able strat­e­gy videogame on old­er adults’ cog­ni­tion.

Let me first give some con­text. It seems clear that, as we age, our Read the rest of this entry »

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