Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Here you have the twice-a-month newslet­ter with our most pop­u­lar blog posts. Please remem­ber that you can sub­scribe to receive this Newslet­ter by email, sim­ply by brain fitness and health newslettersub­mit­ting your email at the top of this page.

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Mar­ket News

All­state: Can we Improve Dri­ver Safe­ty using Com­put­er­ized Cog­ni­tive Train­ing?: Insur­ance com­pa­ny All­state and brain fit­ness soft­ware devel­op­er Posit Sci­ence just announced a very intel­li­gent ini­tia­tive, and Tom War­den, Assis­tant Vice Pres­i­dent and Leader of All­state’s Research and Plan­ning Cen­ter, explains to us why cog­ni­tive train­ing may be the new safe­ty fea­ture fol­low­ing seat belts and airbags.

The Cog­ni­tive Health and Fit­ness Mar­ket On The Move: As you have prob­a­bly seen, the Cog­ni­tive Health and Brain Fit­ness field is rapid­ly evolv­ing. Here we high­light some of the main devel­op­ments affect­ing the field over the last 6‑months: pub­lic pol­i­cy ini­tia­tives in Cana­da and the US, the grow­ing role of com­put­er­ized assess­ments, sev­er­al ven­ture cap­i­tal rounds, major ini­tia­tives by insur­ance com­pa­nies, and sig­nif­i­cant research find­ings.

The Big Pic­ture

Exec­u­tive Sum­ma­ry of the Brain Fit­ness Mar­ket: Let’s step back and ask our­selves, “Why is the field evolv­ing in such a fast way? What is hope, what is hype, what is real­i­ty?” A spate of recent glob­al news cov­er­age on brain fit­ness and brain train­ing reflects a grow­ing inter­est in nat­ur­al, non drug-based inter­ven­tions to keep our brains sharp as we age. This inter­est is very time­ly, giv­en an aging pop­u­la­tion, the increased preva­lence of Alzheimer’s rates, and soar­ing health care costs in the US that place more empha­sis than ever on pre­ven­tion and lifestyle changes. This arti­cle sum­ma­rizes the main mar­ket dynam­ics, open ques­tions, and top trends to watch for.

Nour­ish­ing Our Brains and Minds

Teach­ing is the Art of Chang­ing the Brain: Lau­rie Bar­tels promis­es, “I have read a num­ber of books that trans­late cur­rent brain research into prac­tice while pro­vid­ing prac­ti­cal sug­ges­tions for teach­ers to imple­ment. This is the first book I have read that pro­vides a bio­log­i­cal, and clear­ly ratio­nal, overview of learn­ing and the brain.” Go and enjoy her review of a very inter­est­ing book by James Zull, Direc­tor Emer­i­tus of the Uni­ver­si­ty Cen­ter for Inno­va­tion in Teach­ing and Edu­ca­tion at Case West­ern Reserve.

Phi­los­o­phy as the Miss­ing Link in School Cur­ric­u­la: Kim­ber­ly Wick­ham answers pro­vides some good answers to the ques­tion, “Why would any­one want to teach phi­los­o­phy to pre-ado­les­cent chil­dren? that will engage your crit­i­cal think­ing skills.

A User’s Guide to Life­long Brain Health: Drs Simon Evans and Paul Burghardt hope (as we do) that the emerg­ing empha­sis on cog­ni­tive exer­cise and fit­ness helps com­ple­ment ‑not sub­sti­tute- oth­er lifestyle fac­tors impor­tant for the “phys­i­cal health of the brain and all the sys­tems it com­mu­ni­cates with”. Think: nutri­tion, exer­cise, sleep.

Exer­cis­ing Our Brains

Excel­lent Read­er Com­ments: Our last newslet­ter gen­er­at­ed a round of excel­lent  com­ments by read­ers on cog­ni­tive train­ing, Posit Sci­ence and Alzheimer’s Aus­tralia, geron­tol­ogy and the brain, and the val­ue of videogames. Come enjoy this col­lec­tive wis­dom and par­tic­i­pate as you wish.

Brainy Haikus:
riv­er with haikus
flow­ing in since the sum­mer
keep­ing  us afloat

The Chal­lenges of Geron­tol­ogy?: The World Eco­nom­ic Forum has asked me, as one of the 16 mem­bers of the Glob­al Agen­da Coun­cil on the Chal­lenges of Geron­tol­ogy, for “an 800 word sum­ma­ry of your most com­pelling action­able idea on the chal­lenges of geron­tol­ogy.” Feel free to help me out by offer­ing your own action­able ideas, either relat­ed to the dis­ci­pline of geron­tol­ogy itself or on ways to best engage the grow­ing num­ber of brains over the age of 60 in our plan­et.

Enjoy!

Yes, It is Smart to Learn New Tricks

Good arti­cle in the Wash­ing­ton Post today: 

Is It Real­ly Smart to Teach Old Brains New Tricks?

The reporter presents a good overview of what is happening, but framed around a high­ly arti­fi­cial choice for con­sumers: either you a) do phys­i­cal exer­cise, or b) take part in social inter­ac­tions, or c) engage in men­tal exer­cise.

What about switch­ing off those TVs and hav­ing time for all a, b, c, and more? Research does not sup­port a “gen­er­al solu­tion” to cog­ni­tive health but a mul­ti-pronged one, fea­tur­ing a good nutri­tion, stress man­age­ment, and both phys­i­cal and men­tal exer­cise. Each indi­vid­ual presents dif­fer­ent con­texts and pri­or­i­ties: for exam­ple, Read the rest of this entry »

Mind Teaser: Consider Linda

(I hope you enjoy this very reveal­ing mind teas­er!)

Please con­sid­er Lin­da, a 31-year-old woman, sin­gle and bright. When she was a stu­dent, both in high school and col­lege, she was deeply con­cerned with dis­crim­i­na­tion and social jus­tice, and also par­tic­i­pat­ed in anti-nuclear protests.

Which is more prob­a­ble about Lin­da’s occu­pa­tion today? (a) Lin­da is a bank teller; (b) Lin­da is a bank teller and active in the envi­ron­men­tal move­ment.

Quick, what’s your answer? (a) or (b)?

If you answered (b), you are wrong, and in good com­pa­ny. That’s what most of my col­leagues and I answered the first time we saw this teas­er in one of our Stan­ford Orga­ni­za­tion­al Behav­ior class­es.

It is more prob­a­ble that Lin­da is a bank teller, which is a whole cat­e­go­ry, that she is both a bank teller AND also active in the envi­ron­men­tal move­ment, which is a sub­set of that whole cat­e­go­ry.

A recent Wall Street Jour­nal arti­cle explains the phe­nom­e­non:

Free to Choose, But Often Wrong:

When psy­chol­o­gists Daniel Kah­ne­man and the late Amos Tver­sky con­duct­ed an exper­i­men­tal sur­vey in the ear­ly 1980s ask­ing peo­ple to answer this sim­ple ques­tion, they dis­cov­ered, to their sur­prise, that most respon­dents picked “b,” even though this was the nar­row­er choice and hence the less like­ly one. It seems that salien­cy in this case, Lin­da’s pas­sion­ate polit­i­cal pro­file trumps log­ic.”

Relat­ed read­ing and teasers:

- Why Smart Brains Make Stu­pid Deci­sions

- 50 brain teasers to test your cog­ni­tive abil­i­ty.

Memory Training and Fluid Intelligence

Quick update: 2 very inter­est­ing news, 2 excel­lent blog car­ni­vals.

1) For­get Brain Age: Researchers Devel­op Soft­ware That Makes You Smarter (Wired). Thanks Senia!

- “In a lim­it­ed tri­al, he and his team were able to make 34 test sub­jects sig­nif­i­cant­ly bet­ter at answer­ing IQ test ques­tions after train­ing them on a com­plete­ly sep­a­rate mem­o­ry task”

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 »

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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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