Posts Tagged ‘children’

Week 5, trying DoubleTrouble

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

As my son has ADHD, we are following the Brain Fitness Pro Jr recommendation to move up to two training sessions per day starting this week (Week 5). My son is 9, but decided to give Double Trouble a try anyway (the Help file suggests that it is recommended for children ages 10 and up).

His first session of Double Trouble went well and he immediately grasped the concept and moved from 2 items up to six in relatively short order. I think the novelty of the new game was a good motivator for him. So for his first session each day this week, he continued with Double Trouble. His scores were:






He found Double Trouble very challenging, so for his second session each day he chose Straightahead (except for Day 1 of Week 5, where he tried Switchback, but found it very confusing to mix that with Double Trouble). His Straightahead scores were:




7.25 (new high score)

His Straightahead scores have improved steadily; his average scores have been:

Week 1 5.73

Week 3 6.68

Week 5 6.72

So at this point, I do have some questions:

1) Is mixing two different games in one day a good idea, or should he should he do the same game twice each day? What about changing games from day to day, or week to week? I’m trying to let my son drive the process, but at the same time, would like to advise him as to how to make the best use of his time and effort.

2) Have the effects of the Junior games been studied, and have the use of Straightahead, Switchback, and Double Trouble been shown to have the same effects on working memory as duel N-back training?

3) At times my son appears focussed on the game, but still has trouble progressing (for example, today he started Double Trouble with 6 items, but quickly went down to 4 items). Is there some strategy or technique I can suggest to him to help him focus his attention? Now that the novelty of the games has worn off, I fear that he is just glazing over at times.


Brain Fitness Pro Jr, weeks 3 and 4

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

After completing one week of Straightahead, and one week of Switchback, my sons scores for weeks 3 and 4 were as follows:

Week 3, Switchback: 4.63, 5.75, 4.5, 5.75, 6.00

Week 4, Straightahead: 5.88, 7.13, 7.13, 6.75, 6.5

I’m not sure how to interpret the results. Given that my son scored 6.5 on his third day of Straightahead, I was hoping for more consistent improvement after four weeks. His usual mid-week spike is encouraging though. His Switchback scores for his second week were marginally better than during his first week. I haven’t noticed any improvements in his ability to focus during written tasks, or math work, or even during his Brain Fitness Pro Jr sessions.

He definitely finds the exercises very hard, and is sometimes reluctant to move up a level when given the choice. I always encourage him to move up, and he’s been pleased when he’s succeeded at the higher levels, but typically moves down again within the same session. As he moved up to 7 and then 8 objects in Straightahead, I suggested strategies to use, such as grouping the numbers into 3-digit and 4-digit numbers. This seems to work for him when he says them aloud, although he’s not always quick enough to say them before the program’s auditory prompts start. Sometimes I also see him tracking the positions of the objects with his cursor as he listens to the auditory prompts, and I think that might be a useful strategy for him as well.

We’re now ready to begin phase 2, which will entail two Brain Fitness Pro sessions per day for the next four weeks. My son is still doing the sessions willingly, but I can tell he is growing frustrated by his slow progress. Hopefully he will start to see some consistent improvement, which would be encouraging for him.

Brain Fitness Pro Jr, our journey begins

Monday, January 30th, 2012

My son started using Brain Fitness Pro Jr last week. He is 9 years old, and has been diagnosed with ADHD, primarily inattentive. His test scores show major deficits in the areas of working memory and executive function, and he struggles with basic skills such as memorizing multiplication tables, spelling, etc., though his verbal scores are very high as are his math problem-solving skills. When he was about four years old and I started teaching him to read and play piano, it was like groundhog day: he would forget a word he’d read in the previous sentence and have to sound it out each time he encountered it. The next day would be the same thing again. While he did learn to read and play piano, it was slow-going, hard work for him, despite his love of books and music. Printing and cursive writing were more of the same, it took a lot of one-on-one training sessions to get his cursive writing to a functional level–he would often forget what a letter should look like.

Our psychologist recommended trying CogMed, but due to the high cost involved, I decided to try Brain Fitness Pro Jr first as I have the time to spend with my son to ensure he completes the exercises, and feel I have a good understanding of the subject from the reading I have done. I am hoping to see some improvement in his working memory and focus. He is beginning to understand that he has issues in these areas, and is somewhat self-conscious and intimidated at school as a result.

Week 1: He started with Straightahead. His scores for the first five sessions were: 4.63, 6.13, 6.5, 5.63 and 5.75. He was curious and motivated for the first few days, but the tedium set in fairly quickly.The sessions last 12 minutes, and that’s enough for him. I see his focus start to wander after the first five minutes or so and his performance declines. Next week we still try Switchback.

Week 2: My son’s scores on Switchback were 2.63, 3.88, 5.38, 4.00, and 4.63. Interesting that it follows the same rise-fall-rise pattern as the first week on Straightahead. I haven’t timed it, but it seems that my son starts to lose focus after the first 5-6 minutes, I see his performance decline after that point. As a note to the software designers, while my son and I both find the Looney Tunes voices of Daffy Duck and Yosemite Sam cute when they are encouraging, I have to say that I didn’t care for the “No, no, no, you’re doing it all wrong!” message you get after giving too many incorrect responses. Being blasted with “You’re doing it all wrong!” when struggling with a tedious but hard task didn’t do anything to boost my son’s spirits, even if it was said by Daffy Duck. He KNOWS he’s doing it wrong and already feels badly about it.

Next week we will go back to Straightahead.

More On The Abacus As Fun Brain Training

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

Abacus or Soroban

Back in June I wrote about the revival of the abacus or soroban in Japan. This subject fascinates me in part I think because it reaffirms two appealing philosophies:

  1. The integration of mind and body. What we do informs the shape of our mental processes. Likewise what we think informs our physical being.
  2. Sometimes progress in one area leads to regress in another. The technological innovation that brought us the calculator robbed us of the valuable mental training that comes from regular mental arithmetic.

(As another example of #2 I was recently given a Chemex coffee maker — one can’t imagine a simpler coffee-making device, and yet for someone who values good-tasting coffee it outperforms electric coffee makers that tend to be vastly more complicated and expensive.)

Now NPR reports on the resurgence of the abacus in modern Japan. Advocates think it will help schoolchildren develop focus and improve their connection to the mathematical concepts being studied.

‘Silently, a third-grader named Sho Uchida races through a written worksheet of arithmetic problems — without the aid of his abacus … his fingers dancing across the page.

‘Hanaka Iwai says being able to conjure up and manipulate a mental abacus is a skill known as anzan.

Anzan enables you to visualize the beads in your head. … you can literally carry the device in your brain,” she says.

‘The system is so intuitive, teachers say, almost any child can master it in a matter of months.’

I like the punchline — “a matter of months.” To those of us who like to master things quickly, the idea of spending months on learning how to use an abacus sounds a little daunting — yet another confirmation that we need to cultivate these kinds of skills rather than curate them.

Music Training as Brain Training

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

In a broad review of research data from around the world, scientists Nina Kraus and Bharath Chandrasekaran from Northwestern University have found consistent evidence that musical training has a strong positive impact on the development brain function, in particular language, speech, memory, and attention. Their report “Music training for the development of auditory skills” was published in the July 20 issue of the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience.

“The effect of music training suggests that, akin to physical exercise and its impact on body fitness, music is a resource that tones the brain for auditory fitness and thus requires society to re-examine the role of music in shaping individual development, ” the report concludes, and advocates for inceased investment in musical training.

Here of some snippets derived from the data the report digests:

  • Musicians, as compared to non-musicians, more adeptly incorporate sound patterns when learning a new language
  • Children with musical training, versus those without, show stronger neural activation to pitch changes in speech and have a better vocabulary and reading ability
  • Musicians display enhanced cognitive and sensory abilities than non-musicians, making them better able to pick up speech in challenging listening environments
  • Music training seems to strengthen the same neural processes that often are deficient in individuals with developmental dyslexia or who have difficulty hearing speech in noise.

As I’ve mentioned before on the blog, the benefits to musical aptitude and appreciation that people find from training with Brain Fitness Pro underscore the strong connection between music and core brain functions.

Targeted Brain Exercise Boost For Kids

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Berkeley neuroscientist Dr. Silvia Bunge and her team devised two clever programs to determine whether carefully selected training exercises could boost IQ and processing speed. The experiment, which sounds akin to building a kit car out of hardware store purchases, involved underprivileged children with lower than average cognitive scores. The researchers involved them in 20 hours of after-school game and puzzle play. One group focused on reasoning exercises, the other on pure processing speed.

The results were a dramatic increase in IQ of 13 points for the reasoning group, and a similarly dramatic increase in processing speed for the processing speed group. (There was no cross-over — the training boosted the scores for the specific function being trained.)

See the full article.

New Finding On Dyslexia And Brain Plasticity

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

In the November 12 issue of the journal Neuron, researchers reveal the first direct evidence of real-time dynamic plasticity in the aural processing areas of the brain; a mechanism for fine tuning aural pattern recognition and noise exclusion.

In a noisy environment the auditory system tracks the repeating pitch of a voice, suppressing the background sounds.

“Children who are diagnosed with developmental dyslexia can be particularly vulnerable to the deleterious effects of background noise,” says senior study author Dr. Nina Kraus, who directs the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University.

When Dr. Kraus and her team measured repeated responses in the auditory brainstem, children without dyslexia were better able to adapt to repeated audible signals than variable signals. Whereas brainstem encoding in the children with dyslexia did not adapt well to the repeating auditory signal.

This was further linked to the successful perception of speech in noise. “The ability to sharpen representation of repeating elements is crucial to speech perception in noise, since it allows superior tagging of voice pitch, an important cue for segregating sound streams in background noise,” offers Dr. Kraus. “The disruption of this mechanism contributes to a critical deficit in noise exclusion, a common symptom in developmental dyslexia.”

Dr. Kraus’s team also observed that, when compared with the children that did not have dyslexia, the dyslexic children showed enhanced brain activity in response to variable sound stimuli. “This may enable dyslexic children to represent their sensory environment in a broader and arguably more creative manner, although at the cost of the ability to exclude irrelevant signals,” speculates Dr. Kraus.

BFP Junior – Brain Training for Children

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

More good news on the product front.

I’m very happy to announce the release of BFP Junior — brain training games for children ages 6 through 12. These games train the same core functions as Brain Fitness Pro, but start out much more simply. The program has a number of features to keep the children interested. — Selectable “themes,” whacky sounds, bright colors… Just like the adult version! OK, nothing like the adult version.

We will be incorporating the new exercises and some of the ideas from Junior into Brain Fitness Pro later this year. Although the exercises start out more simply, they have unlimited levels of difficulty and would be great for variation in the regular program, or for people who want to ease their way into dual n-back.


Working-Memory Not Processing Speed Determines Fluid Intelligence

Monday, December 29th, 2008

As I was researching academic studies related to processing speed (with a view to perhaps including processing speed training in the Brain Fitness program) I discovered this fascinating paper:

A latent variable analysis of working memory capacity, short-term memory capacity, processing speed, and general fluid intelligence

(Andrew R. A. Conway, Nelson Cowan, Michael F. Bunting, David J. Therriault and Scott R. B. Minkoff)

Conway set out to see whether working-memory, short term memory, and processing speed could be correlated to fluid intelligence. He found, somewhat surprisingly, that while working-memory capacity has a very strong correlation to fluid intelligence, neither short term memory nor processing speed has a significant correlation.

Conway discusses the significance of this result at some length. He makes some compelling points:

1. His findings strengthen the argument that working-memory can be equated to fluid intelligence. The more items of information we can hold and manipulate, the better we can arrive at intelligent analyses.

2. When testing the effect of processing speed on intelligence it is important to keep the tasks very simple, to avoid any unintended overlap with working-memory. He cites this as the reason that previous studies found a link between processing speed and fluid intelligence.

3. In young children and aging subjects, processing speed may indeed have an impact on fluid intelligence. This would call for processing speed training for the elderly.

I found Conway’s methodology quite thoughtful and sound. Overall, I’m disuaded from designing exercises that train only processing speed, but instead to continue to focus on working-memory and perhaps include an element of processing speed as a way to provide novelty and reward (a faster working-memory task, perhaps).

Doidge – Part 3 – The Science of Brain Training

Friday, November 21st, 2008
Norman Doidge: The Brain That Changes Itself

Norman Doidge: The Brain That Changes Itself

(This post is adapted from an entry on our sister blog at

In Chapter three of his book, Doidge focuses on the remarkable career and contributions to the understanding of brain science of Michael Merzenich , a scientist driven by the desire to solve real world problems (like understanding autism) and not content to leave the solutions to others. With Merzenich, a practical solution is part of the scientific challenge.

This section of the book is a must-read for anyone interested in the science behind brain plasticity, brain training, learning and learning dysfunctions, autism, and brain aging. But I will highlight some of the particularly luminous thoughts:

Merzenich: The brain is “like a living creature with an appetite” what we feed it to some extent determines how it thrives. When we engage our brains it matters what we do with them.

Shifting brain maps: By microscopic mapping of the surface of the brain, Merzenich showed that the areas of the brain controlling and responding to things like touch shifted over time depending upon what the brain needed to do with them. (Use two fingers together all the time, the brain maps for those two fingers become merged.)

Competitive plasticity: The brain is constantly assessing how important it is to allocate space to certain skills and functions. The more we demand of a certain skill (like playing the piano) the more space and brain power it gets. The less we use a certain function or skill, the more it loses its brain real estate to other functions.

The role of close attention in plastic change: Merzenich found that repetition alone isn’t enough for plastic change. When monkeys in his research performed tasks repeatedly their brain maps changed, but only if they paid close attention to the task did the changes hold long term. (This is a underpinning tenet to the Brain Fitness Pro training exercise and crops up on the training blog all the time.)

Why children learn so easily… and why adults don’t. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF plays a critical role in triggering the brain’s ability to absorb and learn. In children during the critical period of learning the child’s body releases a lot of BDNF, keeping the brain constantly stimulated to absorb new information. Children’s brains are engaged and absorbent throughout this period. But at the end of the critical period, the body releases a whole lot more BDNF, a trigger that effectively shuts down the critical period and puts an end to this process.

It may seem odd that we’re designed to stop learning effortlessly past a certain point, but it would be difficult to function as an adult if we were constantly distracted and unable to determine priorities and accumulate the wisdom of trial and error.

Restimulating plasticity in adults: As Doidge puts it, “We rarely engage in tasks in which we must focus our attention as closely as we did when we were younger.” Merzenich found that the brain’s ability to grow new nerve cells, forge plastic change, and learn new skills wasn’t completely shut off in adults, but required certain conditions to be opened up again. The first condition is highly focused attention. The second is reward or satisfaction, which can come from novelty, pleasure, or a sense of achievement. (Again, these are foundations of the Brain Fitness Pro design.)

In Merzenich’s own words: “Everything that you can see happen in a young brain can happen in an older brain.”

This phase of Merzenich’s career lead him to help found Posit Science, a company that publishes brain training software to help children with learning disabilities and to provide brain training for older people who are losing or don’t want to lose memory function or mental sharpness as they age.

(As I’ve written elsewhere, Posit Science seems to have great products, but they’re unfortunately very expensive, and prohibitively expensive in many situations that could really help people. A full program for an adult costs over $600. That’s why I believe that Brain Fitness Pro should remain affordable, in order to bring these kinds of benefits to those who need them but just don’t have hundreds of dollars to spend.)

Related posts:

Building a Better Brain — in the second case study Doidge focuses on Barbara Arrowsmith Young’s discovery that learning disabilities can be mitigated by training the weaker areas of the brain to be stronger.

Part 2 – Rewiring balance — Doidge explores the incredible contributions of Michael Merzenich (the founder of Posit Science).