Archive for Neuroscience Interview Series

We have moved

Hello dear readers: after a transition period, we have definitively moved to http://www.sharpbrains.com/blog

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Please visit us there if you want to keep reading our (close to) daily articles. Please update your feed, and any technorati/ stumbleupon/ del.ic.ious account you may have pointing at this old address. Our new location:
http://www.sharpbrains.com/blog

We won’t be posting more articles here.

We’ll see you there!
-Caroline & Alvaro

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Brain Fitness February Newsletter/ Brain Awareness Week

We hope you are enjoying the growing coverage of Brain Fitness as much as we are. Below you have the monthly email update we sent a few days ago.

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? Continue Reading

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Neuroscience Interview Series: on learning and “brain gyms”

Given that we are getting new readers let’s re-introduce our Neuroscience Interview Series. If you click on the category (in the right bar) that says Neuroscience Interview Series, you will find the updated list of interviews we have conducted (and also some that have found elsewhere, such as the one with Posit Science’s Dr. Michael Merzenich and Dr. John Ratey).

The interviews we have conducted and published so far, with most recent first:

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2007 New Year Resolution: Carnival of Brain Fitness

Happy 2007 to everyone!

We have just formulated our New Year Resolution: make 2007 the year when Brain Fitness became a mainstream concept.

How do we start? well, let’s announce the launch of the Carnival of Brain Fitness (a Blog Carnival is basically the vehicle that blogs use to share posts around specific topics).

Goal: to facilitate a dialogue about this emerging field across multiple perspectives, from scientists and health professionals, to education and training ones, to basically everyone who has conducted an experiment on his on her brain and mind, and has news to report.

Context: The scientific foundations lie in neurogenesis, neuroplasticity, cognitive training and stress management. Medical and health applications range from stroke and TBI rehabilitation to ADD/ADHD and early Alzheimer’s to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and cognitive therapy. Educational and training applications go from helping kids improve reading abilities to helping manage stress and anxiety – including work with the “mental game” in sports and high-demand activities pr professions. Each of us may also have experiences to report, where we saw first hand, no matter our age, our innate ability to refine and transform ourselves (and our brains).

Mechanics: If you’d like to contribute,

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New Brain Fitness Guide

We are very excited to announce our newly released Brain Fitness for Sharp Brains: Your New New Year Resolution. We wrote it in order to provide an introduction to the concept, science, and practice of brain fitness in plain English, by answering the Top 25 questions we have received over the last four months. Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg, Alvaro Fernandez and myself (Caroline) have been working hard on this.

You can click here to receive your complimentary copy of the complete guide. Otherwise, please make sure to check our new blog location here, as we will publish a new question and its answer every Monday and Thursday before 9AM Pacific Standard Time. If we missed your pressing question, let us know!

Here is a sneak preview of the questions we will be answering …

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Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg on Brain Fitness Programs and Cognitive Training

Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg is a clinical professor of neurology at New York University School of Medicine, and author of over 50 peer-reviewed papers. His areas of expertise include executive functions, memory, attention deficit disorder, dementia, traumatic brain injury, and others. Dr. Goldberg was a student and close associate of the great neuropsychologist Alexander Luria. His book The Executive Brain: Frontal Lobes and the Civilized Mind (Oxford University Press, 2001) has received critical acclaim and has been published in 12 languages. His recent book The Wisdom Paradox: How Your Mind Can Grow Stronger As Your Brain Grows Older (Gotham Books, Penguin, 2005) offers an innovative understanding of cognitive aging and what can be done to forestall cognitive decline. It has been, or is in the process of being, published in 13 languages.

We are fortunate that Dr. Goldberg is SharpBrains’ Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Advisor. His book The Wisdom Paradox inspired me to embark in this path, and has been a key sounding board in the development of what we are doing.

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Key take-aways

- “Use It and Get More of It” reflects reality better than “Use It or Lose It”. 

- Let’s demystify cognition and the brain. Everyone needs to have a basic understanding of the brain-and how to cultivate it.

- Well-directed mental exercise is a must for cognitive enhancement and healthy aging.

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Roots: Vygotsky and Luria

Alvaro Fernandez (AF): Elkhonon, maybe we could start with Vygotsky. At one of my Stanford classes, I became fascinated by his theory of learning. Which links into modern neuropsychology.

Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg (EG): Vygotsky proposed that learning requires internalization. And that internalization equals, literally, a change in the brain of the learner. Of course there weren’t advanced neuroimaging techniques those days, so scientists could only speculate about what happened in healthy brains. But they could carefully analyze what happened with patients who had suffered any kind of serious brain problem, from strokes to traumatic brain injury. And this is how neuropsychology was born: Alexander Luria, Vygotsky’s disciple, and my own mentor, was commissioned to help rehabilitate Russian soldiers with brain injuries during WWII. This provided invaluable clinical material for understanding the mechanisms of the healthy brain. Much of modern cognitive neuroscience rests its foundation in Luria’s work.

Neuroimaging

AF: and now we have new neuroimaging techniques.

EG: Precisely. It is often said that new neuroimaging methods have changed neuroscience in the same way that the telescope changed astronomy. We use MRI, PET, SPECT, fMRI and MEG both in neuroscience research and in clinical practice. None of these techniques is perfect, but used properly they provide us with a much better understanding than as only as 30 years ago.

Research and work

AF: please tell us about your main research and practical interests.

EG: As you can see in my papers and books, I will categorize them in 3 areas-a) computer-based cognitive training/ Brain Fitness overall, b) healthy cognitive aging, and c) frontal lobes and executive functions. I am also interested in memory, hemispheric interaction, and in a general theory of cortical functional organization, but we will leave this for another occasion and focus today on those three areas.

First, Cognitive Training/ Brain Fitness. Rigorous and targeted cognitive training has been used in clinical practice for many years. It can help improve memory, attention, confidence and competence, reasoning skills, even how to reduce anxiety and deal with uncomfortable situations.

Second, healthy cognitive aging. The brain evolves as we age. Some areas, such as pattern recognition, get better with age. Some require extra-workouts in order to reduce “chinks in the armor” and increase neuroprotection through the Cognitive (or Brain) Reserve). Hence, the need for targeted cognitive training.

Third, the Frontal lobes and executive functions, which permeate seemingly very different problems such as ADHD and Alzheimer’s, are critical for our identity and successful daily functioning so they require extra attention.

Frontal Lobes and executive functions

AF: Please tell us more about what the Frontal Lobes are

EG: We researchers typically call them the Executive Brain. The prefrontal cortex is young on evolutionary terms, and is the brain area critical to adapt to new situations, plan for the future, and self-regulate our actions in order to achieve long-term objectives. We could say that that part of the brain, right behind our forehead, acts as the conductor of an orchestra, directing and integrating the work of other parts of the brain.

I provide a good example in The Executive Brain book, where I explain how I was able to organize my escape from Russia into the US.

Significantly, the pathways that connect the frontal lobes with the rest of the brain are slow to mature, reaching full operational state between ages 18 and 30, or maybe even later. And, given that they are not as hard-wired as other parts of the brain, they are typically the first areas to decline.

Cognitive Training and Brain Fitness

AF: And is that one of the areas where cognitive training/ Brain Fitness Programs can help

EG: Yes. Most programs I have seen so far are better at training other brain areas, which are also very important, but we are getting there, with examples such as working memory training, emotional self-regulation and domain-specific decision-making. Some of the spectacular research and clinical findings of the last 20 years that remain to be discovered by the population at large are that we enjoy lifelong brain plasticity and Neurogenesis, that the rate of development of new neurons can be influenced by cognitive activities, and that intense mental challenges provide extra resistance to ageing.

Exercising our brains in systematic ways is as important as exercising our bodies. In my experience, “Use it or lose it” should really be “Use it and get more of it”. And computer-based programs are proving to be a great vehicle for that “Use It”.

Emotions and Art Continue Reading

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SharpBrains: we have moved!

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We moved to a new location.
Please update your bookmarks and links to our new location at:
http://www.sharpbrains.com/blog

We’ll see you there!
-Caroline & Alvaro

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