I really enjoyed this TED talk from Dr. Read Montague, a scientist who is heading the Roanoke Brain Study. The project’s goal is to take MRI images of 5,000 people of all ages over a period of many years, to learn more about how the brain works and how we interact with one another. Enjoy!
A new study in NeuroReport has confirmed what many mothers and fathers may have long suspected: the brains of men and women respond differently to the cries of an infant. In the study, men and women were asked to get into a relaxed state. The researchers then played baby crying sounds and found that the women’s brains switched almost immediately to an attentive state, while the men’s brains remained at rest.
Interestingly, it didn’t matter if the men and women were parents or nonparents; the effect was the same regardless of whether the participants did or did not have children of their own.
You can read more about the study here.
A recent study from Indiana University found that the taste of beer–even without the alcohol–triggers rewards in the brain that drives you to crave more beer.
To measure the pleasure response, the scientists looked at dopamine release in the brain. The scientists studied 49 men with varying relationships to alcohol (from non-drinkers to heavy drinkers) and found that from the first tiny sip of beer, the brain responded with a dopamine increase in an area of the brain called the ventrial striatum. This dopamine release corresponded with the men reporting increased cravings for more beer. The experiment was conducted in a way that could not make them men intoxicated, so the response was attributed solely to the taste molecules in the beer.
You can read a more in-depth article about this study at Discover.
I woke up in a cheerful mood this morning because yesterday the results of a scientific study were published and they once again demonstrated that very strong benefits can be achieved through only 10 hours of Posit Science brain training. The cognitive benefits were not just seen in the tasks themselves, but in measures of everyday activities. What’s more, the benefits lasted for at least a year after training. The study found that the more people trained, the better their level of cognitive protection.
This independent study was conducted by Dr. Fred Wolinsky at the University of Iowa, and published in PLoS One. The researchers separated 681 generally healthy people into four groups. One group was given computerized crossword puzzles, while the other three groups did the brain fitness exercise in different settings—on their own at home, in a supervised setting, or in a supervised setting with four extra hours of “booster” training.
Dr. Wolinsky and colleagues found that the people who used Posit Science exercises showed significant gains across speed, attention, working memory, useful field of view, and other executive functions. Benefits were sustained across the board when individuals were evaluated a year later. In fact, statistical analysis indicated that with only 10 hours of exercise, gains in these crucial abilities were going to be sustained in ways that provided years of benefit.
As lead researcher Dr. Wolinsky says, “To most people it is probably surprising that just 10 hours of brain exercise can deliver gains that are measurable at all a year later… you certainly would not expect that from physical exercise. Yet, here we saw gains of 1.5 to 6.6 years across the different standardized tests.” Gains of that magnitude are consistent with other studies of Posit Science exercises published in scientific and medical journals, including gains of about 10 years noted immediately after training.
While I’m thrilled that news of these results has hit the media with vigor, I will admit to feeling a little frustrated with how this (and related good news) has been reported. In many cases, the reporters don’t mention that it really matters what kind of brain training you do, and they often refer to the exercises used as simply “brain games” or “video games.” These are neither brain games nor video games; they are specific, unique, scientifically proven brain training exercises that have been designed to improve cognition. It’s worth pointing out that this study is yet more evidence that establishes Posit Science as the only brain training company whose exercises have consistently demonstrated large-scale, clinically proven results that generalize to abilities that really matter in everyday life, in a rich variety of normal aging people.
In fact, with this study published, the three largest studies ever conducted on therapeutic brain training have all been conducted using Posit Science exercises. Even if we just look at those three studies (and not the total 60+ other studies that have documented the benefits of our exercises) we have proven these benefits across a sample of almost 4,000 unique and normally aging individuals. Other highly visible companies that claim to have “clinically/scientifically proven results” base those claims on relatively limited short-term outcomes studies conducted with no more than a few dozen people overall. The science is out there for all to see: no other “brain games” company out there comes close to providing strong, independent, peer-reviewed, published, and wide-ranging studies demonstrating clear-cut and measurable results. And that’s because, frankly, we have no interest in offering brain training programs that have not been documented to be effective. We want people to spend their time doing brain training exercises that we know will work.
In this particular study, Dr. Wolinsky noted that the he and the other researchers were somewhat surprised that there was no difference between the group aged 50-64 and the group aged 65 and older in their ability to make large gains. He notes, “This suggests that as with physical exercise, anyone can improve at any age… and, as with physical exercise, why would you wait until you are old to get into better shape?”
I couldn’t agree more.
To try the exercise used in the study, you can get started for free at BrainHQ now.
I was pretty addicted to Tetris when it first came out, so my interest was definitely piqued when I saw mention of this study. Researchers found that adults who suffered from amblyopia–lazy eye–could train their eyes to work together by playing Tetris. Now, the researchers want to test this unconventional therapy in kids.
Around 1 in 50 kids has amblyopia, and the common treatment is to cover the strong eye with a patch to strengthen the weaker eye. If you have kids, you know that getting a child to wear an eye patch might not be the easiest or most pleasant thing to do. And for adults, the patching technique is not very effective. The Tetris technique doesn’t focus on one eye or the other, but rather trains the eyes to work together and helps the whole visual system learn how to see properly anew.
You can read more about the study here.
All of us at Posit Science are thinking of Boston today, and this week, in the aftermath of the explosions at the Boston Marathon on Monday and the related events unfolding today. Our hearts go out to everyone in the area and all those affected. After the headlines are gone and people not directly affected by the tragedy begin to move on, many Bostonians and marathon attendees will likely struggle from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and long-term trauma related to the bombing. Another tragic explosion at a West, Texas fertilizer plant also claimed lives and will undoubtedly lead to long-term psychological trauma for survivors of that incident. While no two incidents are exactly alike, research on similar tragedies can offer clues to what bomb survivors might expect–and how to protect children, especially, from psychological trauma related to terror attacks.
A large body of research involving survivors of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing is a good place to start. Of the many findings, some are particularly jarring. For example, one study found that the prevalence of PTSD was 41% after the bombing, and seven years later, 26% of people still had active PTSD. Another study showed that those who also suffered a head trauma were more at-risk for concurrent PTSD, while another found that the traumatic brain injury (TBI) victims also experienced “life-long medical, emotional, vocational and residential needs… beyond their own anticipation and that of their families and healthcare professionals.” One study even found that the spouses of survivors experienced long-term effects of the bombing, and exhibited heightened stress biomarkers seven years after the attack.
There are countless other senseless bombings that have occurred in the last few decades, and aspects of their effects have also been studied. In some cases, they have been used to illustrate the similarities in human response to terror attacks despite cultural, economic, and social differences. For instance, research on Kenyan civilian survivors of the 1998 bombing at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi found that three years post-bombing, 49% of survivors had PTSD with 28% still experiencing active PTSD–numbers that are similar to those found outside of Africa. A 2010 study that looked at survivors of the 2002 bombing in Bali found that eight years out, survivors were mostly in good physical health but that many suffered psychologically.
Perhaps most tragically of all, this body of research clearly shows that children are most strongly affected by these events, as they may not have yet developed the resilience and understanding necessary for strong mental health following a cataclysmic attack. In a study on the 2009 explosion in Mbagala, Tanzania, an appalling 93% of children who survived experienced PTSD. Oklahoma City research found that even though children may not have acknowledged or expressed PTSD initially, they showed heightened psychological reactivity (as measured by heart rate and blood pressure) seven years later, while another study found that those who lost a friend in the attack were extremely at risk for long-term PTSD.
One of the most important takeaways from this body of research, from the standpoint of the general public, are the several studies that have shown that even kids who are geographically distant from a bombing or terror attack can experience lasting trauma from media exposure to the event. For that reason, most experts recommend assiduously keeping children away from the TV, newspapers, Internet news, and radio broadcasts following a tragedy of this scale.
Research gleaned from survivors of previous events can hopefully help us to more appropriately and effectively care for those affected by current events. An Israeli study noted that teens who had social support from friends were more protected from terrorism-related stress. The 2010 Bali study previously cited found that positive family and marital relationships greatly lessened the psychological distress of bomb survivors. All of this research can help both mental health professionals and family and friends of survivors as they support those directly affected. Still, the road ahead may be long and challenging for survivors, and they will need all the help they can get.
Our heartfelt sympathies go out to everyone affected by the Boston Marathon bombings and the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion. But more than that, we want to continue to bring attention to the issues of PTSD and long-term trauma following tragic events like these, so the survivors’ mental health needs and recovery processes are not forgotten or discounted in the aftermath.
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher passed away today, following a stroke. The 87-year-old “Iron Lady” had battled dementia for years. The daughter of a grocery store owner, Thatcher rose to become the first (and so far, only) female Prime Minister of Britain. Of course, shattering the glass ceiling was just one of her many groundbreaking accomplishments.
How is it possible that such a dynamic, powerful, intelligent, and cunning woman could succumb to dementia? Margaret Thatcher’s story reminds us that no matter how accomplished or smart we are, age-related dementia can affect any and all of us. In fact, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in three people over 65 will develop dementia.
Multiple studies have shown that you can take control of your future by doing brain training that helps prevent the onset of dementia. The ACTIVE study found that people who did Posit Science training reduced their risk of serious decline in health-related quality of life by 35%, and reduced the risk of decline in their abilities to perform instrumental tasks of daily living. A follow-up study showed that the benefits were maintained for at least five years. The IMPACT study showed that regular use of exercises in BrainHQ improves auditory memory by an average of 10+ years. And the IHAMS study demonstrated that people who did brain training had significant gains when compared with people who did crossword puzzles.
These are just a small number of proven results among the dozens of completed and in-progress studies on the effectiveness of BrainHQ brain training. No matter how well you are doing right now, don’t wait until it’s too late. Start training today!
A new study in the journal Stroke has found that people who eat a lot of fiber have a lower risk of stroke. The meta-analysis, which looked at data from eight studies, found that adding even a small amount of fiber to the diet can reduce the likelihood of a first-time stroke. Previous research has shown that fiber has other benefits as well, including high blood pressure.
Dietary fiber comes in many forms, and is relatively easy to add to your diet. Excellent sources include beans and legumes, like lentils, navy beans, black beans, and so forth, as well as leafy greens like collards and kale. Raspberries and eggplant are also very good sources of dietary fiber. You can find a full chart with information about food sources of fiber here.
Lead researcher Diane Threapleton notes, “…any long-term increase in intake of fiber-rich foods such as whole-grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts will see the risk of stroke reduced. This could be particularly important for people with stroke risk factors like being overweight, smoking, and having high blood pressure.” You can find the study here.
Do you remember the futuristic movie Minority Report? In the movie, Tom Cruise’s character works in the Police’s departments of “pre-crime” and goes around arresting people before they commit the actual crime. A new study has come eerily close to the science fiction described in Minority Report, finding that brain scans can quite accurately predict whether a person will reoffend or not.
The research, conducted by scientists at the Mind Research Network in Albuquerque, found that MRI scans were very good at predicting whether a criminal would reoffend within four years of release. 96 inmates were asked to do an impulse control task while undergoing an MRI scan. Researchers focused on activity in a brain area called the anterior cingulate cortex, which is associated with impulse control. They found that inmates with low activity in the anterior cingulate cortex were about two times more likely to commit another felony after release as compared to inmates with higher anterior cingulate activity.
While the researchers are excited about this finding, they note that we are likely still a long way from using brain scans to guide sentencing and risk assessment. Many more inmates need to be tested to confirm the power of the effect. They also note that people could figure out ways to cheat the test or to render the test results unreadable.
Most exciting about the finding is the idea that impulse control is both measurable and may be related to recidivism. With cognitive training designed to imrpove impulse control, the researchers speculate, you may be able to reduce recidivism. Perhaps an exercise like Freeze Frame, which trains the brain to suppress impulses, will one day be used to this end. Dr. Merzenich has written extensively on his blog about how criminal activity is likely related to “negative learning” plasticity processes that occur in the brain from childhood on, so it follows that brain training in a positive direction could ameliorate some of these negative effects and change behavior.
You can read more about the study at Wired.
Earlier today, we posted a fictional story in honor of April Fools’ Day. You might think we were just messing around, but we were trying to help give your brain a little boost! It turns out that a day full of surprises and laughter gives the brain a good workout.
We often hear that “laughter is the best medicine,” and while that may be an exaggeration, we do have proof that it has positive and healing powers. Laughter is an excellent source of relief from stress and anxiety. One study found, via brain scans, that watching comedians perform stimulates the brain’s reward system. Another showed that hearing a baby laugh can elicit an oxytocin response which has the effect of improving the functional brain connections. Further research concluded that while the exact effects of laughter on healing and well-being may not be well-understood, there is no question that it confers “physiological, psychological, social, spiritual, and quality-of-life benefits.” The same study also points out that unlike other kinds of medicine, laughter appears to have no negative side effects. Other studies have shown that laughter helps us bond socially and form deeper connections with one another. Still more research has found benefits for the immune system, heart health, and much more.
Surprises are also great for your brain’s health. Every time the brain is surprised, a little dose of noradrenaline (also known as norepinephrine) is released. This “surprise” brain chemical puts your brain on alert: Is the surprise dangerous? Is it important to remember? When the brain gets a noradrenaline burst, it is primed to be more alert. In fact, the brain is sort of like a “surprise junkie,” just waiting in stasis until something unexpected occurs. A day full of unexpected jokes and pranks is full of these surprises and gives your brain a great workout. Diverging from routine and expectation is one of the best ways to boost your brain.
Hopefully, today you experienced some funny and surprising jokes that made you laugh and gave your brain a jolt or two. You may want to keep this all in mind during the other 364 days of the year, too! Your brain will thank you for it.