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Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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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 »

Sharpen Your Wits With This Special Offer!

We are offer­ing a lim­it­ed-time deal for the rest of Feb­ru­ary 2007.

You will get Brain Fitness 101: Answers to Your Top 25 QuestionsBrain Fit­ness 101: Answers to Your Top 25 Ques­tions includ­ed for free! (an $11.95 sav­ings!)

Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg and Alvaro Fer­nan­dez answer in plain Eng­lish the most com­mon ques­tions around why and how to exer­cise our brains.

…when you buy any of the fol­low­ing brain exer­cise pro­grams:

Exercise Your Brain: New Brain Research and Implications

Exer­cise Your Brain: New Brain Research and Impli­ca­tions DVD

This one-hour and 20 minute class intro­duces you to the sci­ence of brain fit­ness and includes many engag­ing brain exer­cis­es you can do on your own or in a group set­ting. You will learn about basic neu­roanato­my and phys­i­ol­o­gy, as well as hear about the ground­break­ing pub­li­ca­tions that launched this field. Then, get you will prac­tice how to exer­cise your own brain and flex all your men­tal mus­cles. Per­fect intro­duc­tion to Brain Fit­ness!
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Brain Training and SharpBrains in the news

Sev­er­al recent sto­ries on brain train­ing and Sharp­Brains:

1) New brain games may improve mind fit­ness by Kevin Koster­man (U of Wis­con­sin Oshkosh’s Advance-Titan)

Any­time we learn, we are train­ing, chang­ing, our brain,” Fer­nan­dez said. “The three key core ele­ments for effec­tive brain exer­cise are nov­el­ty, vari­ety and con­stant chal­lenge, sim­i­lar to increas­ing the lev­el in machines we find in gyms.”

2) “Train­ing the Brain as pos­si­ble as Train­ing the Body”, جريدة النهار by Hana­di El Diri (Anna­har, one of the most pres­ti­gious papers in the Mid­dle East. The text is in Ara­bic.)

3) “Train your brain” by Mark Muck­en­fuss (The Press-Enter­prise in River­side and San Bernardi­no)

We can­not promise to peo­ple you will only keep get­ting bet­ter until you are 200 years old. But I think peo­ple still under­es­ti­mate how flex­i­ble the brain real­ly is.”

The Smart­Brains [sic] pro­gram com­bines men­tal exer­cis­es with a stress reduc­tion pro­gram. Too much stress, says Fer­nan­dez, has been shown to be dam­ag­ing not only to per­for­mance, but to the brain itself.
With all of the avail­able pro­grams for stim­u­lat­ing the brain, he says, it is impor­tant to shop care­ful­ly. A crit­i­cal ele­ment, he says, is how clients or par­tic­i­pants are eval­u­at­ed.

Make sure they have a cred­i­ble assess­ment that helps you find your strengths and weak­ness­es and that they have pro­grams that address (those areas),” he says. “Assess­ments that give you 50 (as an age-equiv­a­lent grade) and a week lat­er you’re 32, that’s not a valu­able assess­ment.”

Brain Health Newsletter, February Edition, and Brain Awareness Week

We hope you are enjoy­ing the grow­ing cov­er­age of Brain Fit­ness as much as we are. Below you have the Brain Fit­ness Newslet­ter we sent a few days ago-you can sub­scribe to this month­ly email update in the box on the right hand side.

In this post, we will briefly cov­er:

I. Press: see what CBS and Time Mag­a­zine are talk­ing about. Sharp­Brains was intro­duced in the Birm­ing­ham News, Chica­go Tri­bune and in a quick note car­ried by the Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal Asso­ci­a­tion news ser­vice.

II. Events: we are out­reach part­ners for the Learn­ing & the Brain con­fer­ence, which will gath­er neu­ro­sci­en­tists and edu­ca­tors, and for the Dana Foundation’s Brain Aware­ness Week.

III. Pro­gram Reviews: The Wall Street Jour­nal reviewed six dif­fer­ent pro­grams for brain exer­cise and aging, and the one we offer is one of the two win­ners. A col­lege-lev­el coun­sel­ing cen­ter starts offer­ing our stress man­age­ment one. And we inter­view a Notre Dame sci­en­tist who has con­duct­ed a repli­ca­tion study for the work­ing mem­o­ry train­ing pro­gram for kids with ADD/ ADHD.

IV. New Offer­ings: we have start­ed to offer two infor­ma­tion pack­ages that can be very use­ful for peo­ple who want to bet­ter under­stand this field before they com­mit to any par­tic­u­lar pro­gram: learn more about our Brain Fit­ness 101 guide and Exer­cise Your Brain DVD.

V. Web­site and Blog Sum­ma­ry: we revamped our home page and have had a very busy month writ­ing many good arti­cles. We also host­ed two “Blog Car­ni­vals”- don’t you want to know what that means?
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Brain Fitness Programs, “Brain Gyms”…Explained

SharpBrains Vision
Thanks to Mind­Hacks for the link to a good Wash­ing­ton Post arti­cle, “Pump­ing Neu­rons”.

A cou­ple of quotes:

Recent research shows that the brain remains plas­tic, or basi­cal­ly train­able, through­out life. In a study pub­lished in the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Med­ical Asso­ci­a­tion in 2002, sig­nif­i­cant per­cent­ages of the 2,802 par­tic­i­pants age 65 and old­er who trained for five weeks for about 2 1/2 hours per week improved their mem­o­ry, rea­son­ing and infor­ma­tion-pro­cess­ing speed.

When we learn, we cre­ate phys­i­cal changes inside our heads. By prac­tic­ing a skill, we repeat­ed­ly stim­u­late the same area of the brain, which strength­ens exist­ing neur­al con­nec­tions and cre­ates new ones. Over time, we can become more cog­ni­tive­ly effi­cient, using few­er neu­rons to do the same job. And the more often we fire up cer­tain men­tal cir­cuits, the eas­i­er it is to get them going again.

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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters and more, SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking health and performance applications of brain science.

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