Archive for September, 2006

Exercise Brain: Visual brain teaser game

Let’s now exercise our Occipital Lobes (visual interpretation and rotation). (Basic brain anatomy here)


Please pick the piece that’s missing from the diagram on the left. You can find the anwer as a Comment.

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Brain Fitness, Brain Exercise and “Brain gyms”: why? how?

Brain Fitness and Brain Exercise: what it is, and why it is important

I may be slightly biased, but I clearly see more and more talk and articles about “Brain Fitness”. Which is great news.

We view Brain Fitness as the combination of science-based Brain Fitness Assessments, Brain Fitness Programs, Brain Fitness Coaches, and Brain Fitness Communities, to help us all sharpen our minds and prevent or delay potential problems.

In the 90s, eating well and exercising were shown to be crucial to our well-being and healthy aging. We join physical fitness gyms to work out our bodies, expand cardiovascular capacity and develop good muscles. Trainers teach us that novelty and variety are important and that having some structure helps us achieve our physical fitness goals.

Now, the need for exercising our brains is starting to become understood. We believe that Brain Fitness will grow to one day become as widespread as physical fitness, and “brain gyms” will complement today’s gyms. We aspire to provide useful and fun

- Brain Fitness Assessments: to allow every person to identify areas to work on, establish a baseline to analyze performance over time, and measure the effectiveness of “brain gym” workouts
Brain Fitness Programs: to allow everyone to exercise mental areas as needed, both improving strengths and solving bottlenecks that prevent overall progress. Programs may help improve working memory, manage stress, maintain overall brain health, develop sport-specific “game-intelligence”, and others. Examples: Vigorous Mind MindFit, ACE IntelliGym, Cogmed RoboMemo, HeartMath Freeze-Framer
Brain Fitness Coaches: to guide, support and tailor programs for anyone interested in building mental muscles
Brain Fitness Communities: to provide a welcoming and stimulating environment for everyone to exercise our brains

Enjoy the evening

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Brain exercise games: Frontal and Parietal Lobes

Let’s exercise our brains this weekend. Our Frontal Lobes (that deal with planning, among other things), and Parietal Lobes (calculations).

Please try to guess the answers to the questions below (you don’t need to know, or research, the right answer, simply try to “guesstimate” an appropriate range).

- How many shoes have you had in your life?

- In 1999, how were these baby girl names ranked by popularity: Barbara, Amber, Emily, Tracy

- In 1999, how were these baby boy names ranked by popularity: Kevin, Gary, Jose, Hugh

- What is the weight of a large commercial airplane?

Will post the answers by Monday. No, not for the first question!

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Brain Fitness Programs and Neurotechnology

Second and last day of the 6th Annual Neurotech Leaders Forum.

– Deeper review into the challenges the sector (mainly neurodevices) face, such as complexity of reimbursement process, and lack of reasonable agreement as to what “scientific evidence” means (Medicare and Medicaid require randomized double-blind protocols, which is tough, if possible in ensure in some cases)

- The Neurotechnology Industry Organization, to be formally presented at the Society for Neuroscience Conference could fill an important role there.

- Dr. Michael Merzenich was among the recipients of the Gold Electrode Award 2006. Dr. Merzenich is one of the pioneers in this field and Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of two leading companies in this sector: Scientific Learning .
and Posit Science .

- We presented our view of the Brain Fitness market, with the following Executive Summary:

1) The computer-based Brain Fitness Programs field is a new and growing field, driven by recent major scientific findings, the first programs with clear clinical data and the emergence of wide public awareness of the need for “brain exercise”

2) SharpBrains brings to market computer-based, proven, best-of-breed cognitive neuroscience applications to present a full “brain gym”. The programs are developed by research institutions and/ or affiliated companies worldwide. Some examples are: Vigorous Mind MindFit, ACE IntelliGym, Cogmed RoboMemo, HeartMath Freeze-Framer

3) Some programs we have identified are targeted at
– Overall brain maintenance
– Bio-feedback based stress management
– Working memory training for people with ADD/ ADHD
– Basketball-specific “game-intelligence”. Yes, this can be trained too!

You can see other events and lectures:

Serious Games Summit D.C. 2006

San Francisco State University : Osher Lifelong Learning Institute

2006 Neurotech Leaders Forum Agenda

The Speaker’s Wiki

Enjoy the weekend

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Attention and working memory

Do we have selective attention? Do we all have “attention deficits”? or are they “working memory” challenges?

braintop Let’s try this little experiment, conceived by Simons and Chabris for their classic study on sustained inattentional blindness (1999).You will watch a brief video clip, and your challenge is to count the total number of times that the basketballs change hands.

Click here to view the Basketball Experiment clip (To view it, you will need to have Java active in your browser. The video is fairly large, 7.5MB, and it might take a while to finish loading.)

You can read about the fascinating results here.

Credit for pic: Haines World

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Neurotech Leaders Forum today

The first day of the 6th Annual Neurotech Leaders Forum took place today. Good group, with content focused on

a) the basic scientific underpinnings of the neurotechnology sector, delivered by Warren Grill, Associate Professor of BioMedical Engineering at Duke University, and

b) market segmentation and trends, by Neurotech Reports’ founder James Cavuoto.

James defines the neurotechnology market as “the application of electronics and engineering to the nervous system”, and categorizes it into 4 segments: neuromodulation, neurorehabilitation, neurosensing and neural prostheses.

How is this relevant to the Brain Fitness Revolution?

For one, both fields share a common problem today: the need for larger public and clinician education, so that there is more understanding on recent research findings and their implications for our lives and health care.

More importantly, James did a good job at defining Brain Fitness Programs as “natural stimulation”, meaning that the intervention to train/ improve one’s neural circuits does not require an invasive treatment. Fitness is not about procedures such as deep brain stimulation. Yet, he added, companies such as Posit Science have designed their products in a way that stimulate the precise parts of the brain that need that stimulation and re-wiring.

SharpBrains is presenting tomorrow.

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Emotions and faces: part of Executive Intelligence

Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg, when discussing different Frontal Lobe, functions in his Wisdom Paradox book, adds that “Executive intelligence” includes “the ability to penetrate other people’s minds, and that starts with an interest in other people’s minds.”

What do we call a window into other people’s emotions? A face.

braintop Paul Ekman has conducted extensive research on identifying emotions through facial expressions. As part of that research, and as part of the power of discipline and training, he learned how to consciously manipulate 42 facial muscles, including many that in most of us are beyond our control, and even awareness.

Based on primary and secondary research, he found that there are seven emotions expressed in the face in universally consistent ways:
– Sadness
– Anger
– Surprise
– Fear
– Enjoyment
– Disgust
– Contempt

Even more interesting: according to his research, feelings and facial expressions influence each other. This is, not only a sad person will naturally look sad, but a person who intentionally smiles will feel more content than a person who doesn’t.

You can read his advice on how to recognize feelings in order to communicate better, focused on doctor-patient relationships but useful to everyone (including patients who may want to make sure to get their point across).

Why is this relevant for Frontal Lobe functions? well, as part of your decision-making, you may benefit from knowing whether someone is lying to you, and you can refine your guess based on 10 tips that can let you know if someone is lying to you.

Question: from left to right, top then down, what universal feeling does each face indicate?

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Visual illusion, and relative sizes

Which of the 2 circles in the middle of their respective “constellations” is bigger”?


In reality? in your eyes? what is happening? do you see any implications for our daily lives?

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Executive Functions and MacArthur “Genius Grants”

The MacArthur Foundation has awarded the 2006 MacArthur “Genius Grants” to 25 individuals for their “their creativity, originality, and potential to be significant contributors in their fields”. We are happy that some friends received the award, and that we will be able to interview them here, in this blog.

How were they able to accomplish such a feat? what kind of brain is helping them? Also, how are their lifelong experiences shaping their brains?

braintop We can not place them all under fMRI examination , so we will have to ask them questions to understand how they deal with, and developed, what neuropsychologists call Executive Functions, which are mostly located in our Frontal Lobes , the most recent part of our brains in evolutionary terms.

We will ask them about some key Frontal Lobe “Mental Muscles”, such as:

Planning: foresight in devising multi-step strategies.

Flexibility: capacity for quickly switching to the appropriate mental mode.

Inhibition: the ability to withstand distraction, and internal urges.

Anticipation: prediction based on pattern recognition.

Critical evaluation: logical analysis.

Working memory: capacity to hold and manipulate information “on-line” in our minds in real time.

Fuzzy logic: capacity to choose with incomplete information.

Divided attention: ability to pay attention to more than one thing at a time.

Decision-making: both quality and speed.

A highly recommended book, if you are interested in learning more about Executive Functions and Frontal Lobes, is The Executive Brain: Frontal Lobes and the Civilized Mind , by Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg. You can read an in-depth review here.

If you had some of the MacArthur Fellows in front of you, right now, what would you ask them?

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Cogmed Working Memory Training and RoboMemo: interview with Dr. Torkel Klingberg

braintop Wikipedia says “Recent studies suggest that Working Memory can be improved by working memory training (Klingberg et al., 2002)…Perhaps of greater importance, another study has found after a period of working memory training an increase in a range of cognitive abilities and an increase in IQ test scores of approximately 8%.”

A search for “Torkel Klingberg” in PubMed returns 26 papers published in peer-reviewed publications such as the Journal of the American Acadademy of Children and Adolescent Psychiatry, the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience and Nature Neuroscience. We are happy to launch our Neuroscientist Interview Series with an interview with Dr. Torkel Klingberg.

Alvaro Fernandez (AF): Welcome. Can you let us know where you work, and what your Lab does?

Dr. Torkel Klingberg (TK): I have a professorship at Karolinska Institute, and lead the Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience Lab, part of the Stockholm Brain Institute. The lab is addressing the questions of development and plasticity of working memory. We do that through several techniques, such as fMRI, diffusion tensor imaging to look at myelination of white matter in the brain, neural network models of working memory and behavioral studies. In addition, I am a scientific advisor for Cogmed, the company that developed and commercializes RoboMemo.

AF: What studies have you published so far? What studies are in the pipeline, and will be published soon?

TK: You can find a complete list, and the studies themselves, at the lab homepage. Among our studies are three studies on the effect of working memory training: Klingberg et al. 2002, 2005 and Olesen et al. 2004. We have recently submitted two papers on the effect of training in combination with medication, and the effect of training on school performance.

AF: What are the highlights of your research so far?

TK: Our paper from 2004 in Nature Neuroscience, on the effect of working memory training on brain activity, and the 2005 randomized, controlled clinical trial that showed the impact of working memory training specifically in kids with ADD/ ADHD, have caught most public attention, including references in Scientific American. My other research concerns the neural basis for development and plasticity of cognitive functions during childhood, in particular development of attention and working memory. In short, I’d say that we have shown that working memory can be improved by training and that such training helps people with attention deficits and it also improves reasoning ability overall.

AF: What are the effects in every-day life for a child with attention deficits?

TK: When looking at the 1,200 children who have trained in Cogmed’s Stockholm Clinic since start, the most common effects are sustained attention, better impulse control and improved learning ability. Parents often report that their children perform better in school and are able to keep up a coherent conversation more easily after training. Being able to hold back impulses, such as anger outbursts, and keeping better track of one’s things are other every-day life benefits.

AF: How are you making the program available?

TK: All rights are with Cogmed, who is making this available in Sweden and starting to offer this to selected clinics in the US this year. The program is called Cogmed Working Memory Training, or RoboMemo.

AF: What do you expect that we will learn over the next 5 years in the field of Brain Fitness Programs and cognitive training?

TK: I think that we are seeing the beginning of a new era of computerized training for a wide range of applications. Our studies has mostly been aimed at individuals with marked problems of inattention, but there is a wider zone concerning what you define as attention problems, and we will see how RoboMemo can help a larger part of the population in improving cognitive function.

AF: What will you talk about at CHADD?

TK: I will present the data from our published studies on ADHD, as well as some new data from independent researchers in US universities that confirm our findings concerning the effect of working memory training.

AF: You are writing a book, correct? what is it about?

TK: The book is a popular science book about working memory, in the lab and in daily life. It will be out in March in Sweden and we are currently looking for a US publisher.

AF: Dr. Klingberg, thanks for your time.

TK: My pleasure.


You may also be interested in the following posts

- Interview with Prof. David Rabiner on Cognitive Training and ADD/ ADHD

- Neuroplasticity and brain exercise

- Cognitive Neuroscience and Education, today

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