Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Math Brain Teaser for Kids and Adults: Archimedes Grave

(Editor’s Note: every other Friday, starting today, we’ll publish a brain teaser to exercise our brains a bit. Here you have one submitted by new contributor Maria Lando. Enjoy!).
Archimedes made a plenitude of significant scientific discoveries throughout his life. He designed machines capable of lifting attacking ships out of the water as well as mirror arrays capable of focusing sun rays and setting enemy ships on fire. He explained why and how bodies float in the water, helping the king verify that his crown is indeed made out of pure gold. He was fascinated with infinity and found the way of approximating the number Pi as well as counting the number of grains of sand that will fit inside the universe. He died telling a Roman soldier that he is too busy to meet a general as he was contemplating yet another mathematical diagram.  His tomb was decorated with his favorite discovery …. What do you think it is?

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Bird’s Eye View of Cognitive Health Innovation

My presentation to open our Games for Health Conference track is now available via SlideShare:

See Bird’s Eye View of Cognitive Health Innovation

Description: Scientific, technological and demographic trends have converged to create a new $265m market in the US alone: serious games, software and online applications that can help people of all ages assess and train cognitive abilities. Alvaro Fernandez will provide a Bird’s Eye View of the science, market segments and trends, competitive landscape, and main challenges ahead, based on The State of the Brain Fitness Software Market 2009 report released in May, which included Research Executive Briefs prepared by 12 leading scientists and a survey of 2,000+ decision-makers and early adopters.

61% of respondents to the survey Strongly Agreed with the statement “Addressing cognitive and brain health should be a healthcare priority.”  But, 65% Agreed/Strongly Agreed with “I don’t really know what to expect from products making brain claims.” In this session, Alvaro will publicly unveil the new book The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness: 18 Interviews with Scientists, Practical Advice, and Product Reviews, To Keep Your Brain Sharp, co-authored by neuropsychologist Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg and himself, aimed at helping consumers and professionals understand and navigate this growing field.

To see slides, check out Bird’s Eye View of Cognitive Health Innovation

Enjoy the 4th of July!

Enhance Happiness and Health by Cultivating Gratitude: Interview with Robert Emmons

Robert Emmons Thanks(Dear reader: Here you have a little gift to continue the Thanksgiving spirit. Enjoy the interview, and thank you for visiting our site.)

Prof. Robert Emmons studies gratitude for a living as Professor of Psychology at UC Davis and is Editor-In-Chief of the Journal of Positive Psychology. He has just published Thanks: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, an interdisciplinary book that provides a research-based synthesis of the topic as well as practical suggestions.

Alvaro Fernandez: Welcome. Prof. Emmons, could you please provide us an overview of the Positive Psychology field so we understand the context for your research?

Robert Emmons: Sure. Martin Seligman and colleagues launched what was called “positive psychology in the late 90s as an antidote to the traditional nearly exclusive emphasis of “negative psychology” focused on fixing problems like trauma, addiction, and stress. We want to balance our focus and be able to help everyone, including high-functioning individuals. A number of researchers were investigating the field since the late 80s, but Seligman provided a new umbrella, a new category, with credibility, organized networks and funding opportunities for the whole field.

And where does your own research fit into this overall picture?

I have been researching gratitude for almost 10 years. Gratitude is a positive emotion that has traditionally been the realm of humanists and philosophers, and only recently the subject of a more scientific approach. We study gratitude not as a merely academic discipline, but as a practical framework to better functioning in life by taking control of happiness levels and practicing the skill of emotional self-regulation.

What are the 3 key messages that you would like readers to take away from your book?

First, the practice of gratitude can increase happiness levels by around 25%. Second, this is not hard to achieve – a few hours writing a gratitude journal over 3 weeks can create an effect that lasts 6 months if not more. Third, that cultivating gratitude brings other health effects, such as longer and better quality sleep time.

What are some ways to practice gratitude, and what benefits could we expect? Please refer to your 2003 paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, where I found fascinating quotes such as that “The ability to notice, appreciate, and savior the elements of one life has been viewed as a crucial element of well-being.

The most common method we use in our research is to ask people to keep a “Gratitude Journal”  where you write something you feel grateful for. Doing so 4 times a week, for as little as 3 weeks, is often enough to create a meaningful difference in one level of happiness. Another exercise is to write a “Gratitude Letter” to a person who has exerted a positive influence on one’s life but whom we have not properly thanked in the past, and then to meet that person and read the letter to them face to face.

The benefits seem to be very similar using both methods in terms of enhanced happiness, health and wellbeing. Most of the outcomes are self-reported, but there is an increasing emphasis on measuring objective data such as cortisol and stress levels, heart rate variability, and even brain activation patterns. The work of Richard Davidson is exemplary in that respect, showing how mindfulness practice can rewire some activation patterns in Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Fitness Newsletter: October Edition

Brain exercise, brain exercisesFollowing our September edition, here you are have our Monthly Digest of the Most Popular Blog Posts. You can consider it your monthly Brain Exercise Magazine.

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

Brain Fitness Market News

Cognitive Fitness as a New Frontier of Fitness: excellent Los Angeles Times article, covering the cognitive exercise angle of healthy aging and leading science-based players.

A Brain Fitness Vacation: what does this mean? Well, read this fun article to discover.

Rethinking the Brain Fitness Business: thought-provoking article on the future of the sector from a business point of view.

Cognitive Fitness @ Harvard Business Review: HBR makes a first attempt to bring neuroscience research into helping leaders perform at peak levels and maintain sharp brains.

News You Can Use

Train Your Brain to Be Happier: implications of neuroscience and positive psychology research for our daily lives-and our happiness. Please keep tuned if you are interested in this topic: we will publish soon a great interview with Dr. Robert Emmons, leading researcher in the field of gratitude.

Cognitive Fitness: 10 Debunked Myths: what are some misconceptions that prevent many people from seeing the tremendous potential from this emerging research?. Read this post to discover and discuss.

10 (Surprising) Memory Improvement Tips: and why stress management is important for memory and our brain.


Top 50 Brain Teasers and Games with a neuroscience angle: a list of the most popular mind games in our blog.


10 Highlights from the 2007 Aspen Health Forum: a summary of impressions from this great event, including what can happen when you have scientists and politicians in the same room.

Brain Fitness @ Education, Training, Health events: an overview of a number of conferences and university classes with a brain fitness angle.

Thought-provoking posts

Darwin’s adult neuroplasticity: reflections of a beautiful mind that -as self-reported at the age of 72- could have been even more beautiful.The Gene Delusion: IQ and the environment: do genes determine our fates? They don’t. They why do we seem to believe so so often?.

Discounts for SharpBrains readers

Learning & The Brain Conference: the best conference bringing neuroscience research to educators’ minds, February 7-9th in San Francisco. Register before January 25th, 2008, for a discounted price and to make sure you can attend and see our workshop!

MindFit 10% special discount: a 10% discount on one of the most popular brain fitness programs, that combines both an in-depth assessment of cognitive skills with personalized training.

Books and Resources

Best of the Brain from Scientific American: a superb collection of essays for the curious among us.

Selected Resources: Articles, Books, Papers: numerous links to media articles, scientific papers, and recommended books.


Cognitive Reserve and Lifestyle

Update: we now have an in-depth interview with Yaakov Stern, leading advocate of the cognitive reserve theory, and one of the authors of the paper we review below: click on Build Your Cognitive Reserve-Yaakov Stern. 


In honor of the Week of Science presented at Just Science from Monday, February 5, through Sunday, February 11, we will be writing about “just science” this week. We thought we would take this time to discuss more deeply some of the key scientific publications in brain fitness.

Today, we will highlight the key points in an excellent review of cognitive reserve: Scarmeas, Nikolaos and Stern, Yaakov. Cognitive reserve and lifestyle. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology. 2003;25:625-33.

What is Cognitive Reserve?
The concept of a cognitive reserve has been around since 1998 when a post mortem analysis of 137 people with Alzheimer’s Disease showed that the patients exhibited fewer clinical symptoms than their actual pathology suggested. (Katzman et al. 1988) They also showed higher brain weights and greater number of neurons when compared to age-matched controls. The investigators hypothesized that the patients had a larger “reserve” of neurons and abilities that offset the losses caused by Alzheimer’s. Since then the concept of cognitive reserve has been defined as the ability of an individual to tolerate progressive brain pathology without demonstrating clinical cognitive symptoms.
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