Posts Tagged ‘news’

Brain School: Eaton Arrowsmith | Learning Disabilities | Brain Training

Monday, February 21st, 2011

Brain School Eaton Arrowsmith
Howard Eaton, co-founder of the Eaton Arrowsmith Schools, has published a book about his work with Barbara Arrowsmith. Eaton and Arrowsmith pioneered the use of brain training to induce neuroplasticity in the brains of children with learning disabilities, rewiring their brains to function better.

Eaton Arrowsmith’s premise that we needn’t feel constrained by the brain we have but can train our brains to work more effectively is fundamental to MindSparke’s approach to brain training.

Eaton wrote the book to raise awareness about the advantages of using brain training for children with learning disabilities and attention disorders. “My hope is that Brain School will ask politicians, educational administrators, psychologists, psychiatrists, family doctors, educators, parents, and others involved in education to be open to the idea that cognitive functioning can improve and the brain can change,” he said.

“Because there is a lack of knowledge and facts about neuroplasticity, there is a general trend in education to keep practicing the same instructional remediation methods for children with learning disabilities.”

Brain School: Stories of children with learning disabilities and attention disorders who changed their lives by improving their cognitive functioning
is available at,, and to retailers at

Hippocampus Takes Control of Learning

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Each week my first grade son brings home a new set of “spelling words”. It’s often a struggle to get him to focus on word study when a Clone Wars Lego project beckons. But this week my wife, faced with a particularly thorny set of new words, hit on the idea of getting Zane to integrate them into a star wars story. Fantastic!  Twenty minutes later we had a new scene synopsis for George Lucas complete with snakes and licks and dukes, and the next day Zane scored 100% on his spelling review.

Logical, inspired, and now supported by a new research study, the idea that we learn better when we have some active engagement in the learning process makes ample sense but seems to be sadly lacking from many pedagogical strategies.

Neal Cohen, University of Illinois psychology and Beckman Institute professor led the study with postdoctoral researcher Joel Voss. “Having active control over a learning situation is very powerful and we’re beginning to understand why,” commented Cohen. “Whole swaths of the brain not only turn on, but also get functionally connected when you’re actively exploring the world.”

Brain Training Online

Focused on the hippocampus and several other integrated brain regions, Voss asked participants to memorize an array of objects and their locations on a grid, one at a time. Participants with some control were permitted to reveal the objects themselves.

“They could inspect whatever they wanted, however they wanted, in whatever order for however much time they wanted, and they were just told to memorize everything on the screen,” Voss said. The “passive” learners instead reviewed a replay of the grid movements recorded in a previous trial by an active subject.

To complete the exercise the subjects tried to replicate the layout of the objects in the grid from memory. The active and passive subjects then changed roles and performed the task again with a new set of objects.

Recording significant differences in brain activity in the active and passive learners, Cohen and Voss found that the learners with had active control remembered the object placement significantly more accurately than the passive learners.

The researchers repeated the trials with people suffering memory impairment due to hippocampal damage. Surprisingly, these learners failed didn’t benefit from actively controlling the viewing window.

“These data suggest that the hippocampus has a role not just in the formation of new memory but possibly also in the beneficial effects of volitional control on memory,” the researchers wrote.

Confirming this hypothesis, further tests with fMRI showed the highest hippocampal activity in the active subjects’ brains. These tests also showed greater engagement in several other brain structures when the subject controlled the viewing window, and greater synchronization of activity in these brain regions and the hippocampus than in the passive trials.

Activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the cerebellum and the hippocampus was higher, and more highly coordinated, in participants who did well on spatial recall, the researchers found. Increased activity in the inferior parietal lobe, the parahippocampal cortex and the hippocampus corresponded to better performance on item recognition.

“Lo and behold,” Cohen said, “our friend the hippocampus makes a very conspicuous appearance in active learning.”

The new findings challenge previous ideas about the role of the hippocampus in learning, Voss said. It is a surprise, he said, that other brain regions that are known to be involved in planning and strategizing, for instance, “can’t do very much unless they can interact with the hippocampus.”

Rather than being a passive player in learning, the hippocampus “is more like an integral part of an airplane guidance system,” Voss said. “You have all this velocity information, you have a destination target and every millisecond it’s taking in information about where you’re headed, comparing it to where you need to go, and correcting and updating it.”

The paper:
“Hippocampal Brain-network Coordination During Volitional Exploratory Behavior Enhances Learning.”

Brain Training, Neurogenesis, & Meditation

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Brain Training and Meditation

brain training online meditation

Brain Training And Meditation

So often different medical, scientific and philosophical disciplines travel on parallel paths, unaware or only dimly aware of one another’s existence. This applies to many spheres, not just brain training, neuroscience, medicine, and psychology. But when these parallel paths bend slightly and converge, exciting progress often results.

Scientists from the Harvard Medical School, the Massachusetts Medical School, and the Bender Institute of Neuroimaging recently bent their paths to study the impact of mindfulness (regular meditation) on the brain. And here at MindSparke we find our own path of brain training research bending to meet them.

The research team set out to investigate what if anything was changing in the brain as a result of mindfulness practice. Specifically, they used neuroimaging to look for “pre–post changes in brain gray matter concentration” of sixteen healthy, meditation-naïve participants who took part in the two month program. The team looked for changes in gray matter concentration compared with a control group of 17 individuals. They found increases in gray matter concentration in the left hippocampus — the posterior cingulate cortex, the temporo-parietal junction, and the cerebellum in the MBSR group compared with the controls. In other words, brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.

Brain Training Online with Brain Fitness Pro SE – Meditation Included!

From a brain training perspective this is phenomenal. At MindSparke we’ve been investigating the brain training benefits of meditation before training with Brain Fitness Pro. We’ve found that just a brief (eight minute or so) period of mindful meditation before brain training with Brain Fitness Pro’s working memory exercises increases the effectiveness of the dual n-back training by as much as 20%. Several months ago we incorporated guided meditation into the MindSparke Brain Fitness Pro SE (Special Edition) online brain training program.

Neuroscience, Psychiatry and Brain Health

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

This interview with Pierre Magistretti from the Brain Mind Institute covers a good deal of interesting ground, from the origins of neuroscience, the discovery of anti-depressants (by accident) and the importance of mental activity and reduced stress to brain health in seniors and infants alike.

Interview In SwissInfo

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.

Neuroplasticity, Self, And Free Will

Friday, December 17th, 2010

In a great post from the blog “Meaning And Truth” Sarah B discusses neuroplasticity, the concept of self, and free will. All subjects of great interest to me, too.

Read Sarah’s Post

Calling All Hamsters: Hold That Flight

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Paris Here We Come

Simulating the effects of jet lag by disrupting hamsters’ sleep patterns, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, showed that “jet lag” made the hamsters dumber. (And as far as I know hamsters aren’t renowned for their smarts.)

Already linked to higher rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, odd sleep patterns like those of frequent long haul travelers would now seem to be bad for the brain, too.

Study coauthor Erin Gibson likened the hamsters’ sleep regime to “a flight from New York to Paris every three days.” Her study found a 50% decrease in neurogenesis in the hippocampus, and diminished ability to adapt to a new environment. The learning and memory problems persisted for more than four weeks after a return to a normal sleep schedule.

There’s no clear answer yet about why this happens, but it’s useful to know — even if we can’t avoid long distance travel, we can still try to make sure that we get regular, sufficient sleep… (So says the father of a four-month old, a two-year old, a six-year old and a teenage daughter.)

Survey Finds 83% Concerned About Mental Decline?

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

The Sydney Morning Herald recently reported that 83% of those surveyed were worried about losing mental sharpness. That’s a significant number. Wait a minute, I’m not sure that’s even a realistic number… 83%, really? Pinch of salt? The survey was sponsored by a brain training company…

Are Brain Functions Mapped by Genetics or Environment?

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Pierre Paul Broca

The Irish Medical Times recently published a very good overview of the different ways that science has looked at the localization of brain processing.

Spurred by Pierre Paul Broca’s discovery, in 1861, of a region of the brain critical to speech processing, scientists have theorized and debated whether our brains are organized according to our genetics, our environment, or both.

At first, DNA seemed to have the upper hand — brain mappings seemed to be consistent, to be present from infancy, and to be mirrored by similar localization in other species.

But the discovery of brain plasticity, and the ability of the brain to recover and rewire after injury, led some to surmise that in fact environment played a key role in determining which brain regions processed which information.

But brain plasticity, no matter how powerful and radical, has its limits; our brains are far from being entirely plastic. For the most part, different parts of the brain do seem to be genetically predisposed to perform certain functions and can only adapt within certain limits.

Interesting read…

Coping And Brain Growth

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010
stress coping and neurogenesis

(Not The Actual) Squirrel Monkeys

While we may not particularly like the process, it seems that coping with stress leads to neurogenesis. Professor David Lyons (Stanford) and his team examined the impact of social stress in primates. They found increased brain cell growth in the hippocampus when the animals successfully reorganized their social ties after a separation.

The team tested their premise, that coping tends to counteract the otherwise negative effects of stress, by intermittently separating pairs within a group of adult male squirrel monkeys and allowing new pairs to form.

They found increased hippocampal neurogenesis in the squirrel monkey males. Previous studies with rodents found that hippocampal neurogenesis contributes to spatial learning performance, and Lyons’s team found enhanced spatial learning in the monkeys, too.

The conclusion for us? Therapies designed to promote stress coping potentially have similar effects in humans, particularly those suffering from depression.

Here then we have another reason why Brain Fitness Pro can help alleviate depression.