Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Information Overload? Seven Learning and Productivity Tips

We often talk in this blog about how to expand fun­da­men­tal abil­i­ties or cog­ni­tive func­tions, like atten­tion, or mem­o­ry, or emo­tion­al self-reg­u­la­tion. Think of them as mus­cles one can train. Now, it is also impor­tant to think of ways one can use our exist­ing mus­cles more effi­cient­ly.

Let’s talk about how to man­age bet­ter the over­whelm­ing amount of infor­ma­tion avail­able these days.

Hun­dreds of thou­sands of new books, ana­lyst reports, sci­en­tif­ic papers pub­lished every year. Mil­lions of web­sites at our googletips. The flow of data, infor­ma­tion and knowl­edge is grow­ing expo­nen­tial­ly, stretch­ing the capac­i­ty of our not-so-evolved brains. We can com­plain all day that we can­not process ALL this flow. Now, let me ask, should we even try?

Prob­a­bly not. Why engage in a los­ing propo­si­tion. Instead, let me offer a few strate­gies that can help man­age this flow of infor­ma­tion bet­ter.

1. Pri­or­i­tize: strate­gic con­sult­ing firms such as McK­in­sey and BCG train their staff in the so-called 80/20 rule: 80% of effects are caused by the top 20% of caus­es. In a com­pa­ny, 80% sales may come from 20% of the accounts. Impli­ca­tion: focus on that top 20%; don’t spend too much time on the 80% that only account for 20%.

2. Lever­age a sci­en­tif­ic mind­set. Sci­en­tists shift through tons of data in effi­cient, goal-ori­ent­ed ways. How do they do it? By first stat­ing a hypoth­e­sis and then look­ing for data. For exam­ple, an untrained per­son could spend weeks “boil­ing the ocean”, try­ing to read as much as pos­si­ble, in a very frag­men­tary way, about how phys­i­cal exer­cise affects our brain. A trained sci­en­tist would first define clear hypothe­ses and pre­lim­i­nary assump­tions, such as “Phys­i­cal exer­cise can enhance the brain’s abil­i­ty to gen­er­ate new neu­rons” or “Those new neu­rons appear in the hip­pocam­pus”, and then look specif­i­cal­ly for data that cor­rob­o­rates or refutes those sen­tences, enabling him or her to refine the hypothe­ses fur­ther, based on accu­mu­lat­ed knowl­edge, in a vir­tu­ous learn­ing cycle.

3. Beat your ene­mies-like exces­sive TV watch­ing. Watch­ing TV five hours a day has an effect on your brain: it trains one’s brain to become a visu­al, usu­al­ly unre­flec­tive, pas­sive recip­i­ent of infor­ma­tion. You may have heard the expres­sion “Cells that fire togeth­er wire togeth­er”. Our brains are com­posed of bil­lions of neu­rons, each of which can have thou­sand of con­nec­tions to oth­er neu­rons. Any thing we do in life is going to acti­vate a spe­cif­ic net­works of neu­rons. Visu­al­ize a mil­lion neu­rons fir­ing at the same time when you watch a TV pro­gram. Now, the more TV you watch, the more those neu­rons will fire togeth­er, and there­fore the more they will wire togeth­er (mean­ing that the con­nec­tions between them become, phys­i­cal­ly, stronger), which then cre­ates auto­mat­ic-like reac­tions. A heavy TV-watch­er is mak­ing him­self or her­self more pas­sive, unre­flec­tive, per­son. Exact­ly the oppo­site of what one needs to apply the oth­er tips described here. Con­tin­ue Read­ing

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 blogs, videogames and rewiring our brains

Some great posts:

The Pow­er (and Per­il) of Prais­ing Your Kids in New York Mag­a­zine (via Mind Hacks)

  • One group was praised for their intel­li­gence (“You must be smart at this”), while the oth­ers were praised for their effort (“You must have worked real­ly hard”). This sim­ple dif­fer­ence had a star­tling effect.”
  • Chil­dren who were praised for their effort were more like­ly to choose a hard­er test when giv­en a choice, were less like­ly to become dis­heart­ened when giv­en a test they were guar­an­teed to fail, and when final­ly giv­en the orig­i­nal tests again, their marks improved.”

Videogames Improve Vision by Rewiring Your Brain in Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can

A new edi­tion of the Brain Blog­ging Blog Car­ni­val.

And please remem­ber to sub­mit posts to the next edi­tion of the brain fit­ness Blog Car­ni­val.

Smart Brains, Sharp Brain… new research on maintaining one

There has been a lot of recent buzz about brain fit­ness. A New York Times edi­to­r­i­al print­ed today states:

When test­ed five years lat­er, these par­tic­i­pants [in a cog­ni­tive train­ing study] had less of a decline in the skill they were trained in than did a con­trol group that received no cog­ni­tive train­ing. The pay­off from men­tal exer­cise seemed far greater than we are accus­tomed to get­ting for phys­i­cal exer­cise — as if 10 work­outs at the gym were enough to keep you fit five years lat­er.

and

If fur­ther stud­ies show that men­tal exer­cis­es can improve every­day func­tion­ing, doc­tors may need to pre­scribe such train­ing, senior cen­ters may want to set up “brain gyms,” and aging Amer­i­cans would be wise to do brain-stretch­ing activ­i­ties. For this pur­pose, even the Medicare pre­scrip­tion drug pro­gram, which crit­ics deem too con­fus­ing for many old­er peo­ple to nav­i­gate, could prove an unex­pect­ed bless­ing. Spend 10 hours mas­ter­ing its intri­ca­cies today and you could be a lot sharp­er than your com­pa­tri­ots five years from now.

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About SharpBrains

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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