Archive for the ‘Training Benefits’ Category

Working Memory Training Can Reduce Anxiety, Distractibility

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

A study published in Biological Psychology finds proof of concept for the use of working memory training (specifically the kind of training used in MindSparke) to reduce anxiety and distractibility.



OK, Brain Training, And What Else?

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

One of the questions I get asked most often by MindSparke trainees is what else they can or should be doing to maximize their brain power.  Research shows that regular exercise is not only good for the body but good for the brain as well. This Time magazine piece summarizes evidence from several studies demonstrating the benefits of regular aerobic exercise.

Now, before you turn off your computer and head to the gym I should stress that exercise can’t do for your brain what working memory training can. But combining regular exercise with your brain training regimen is phenomenal.  We’ve found that the best approach is to do some physical exercise before brain training for a boost in score and efficacy.  This is also a great way to take advantage of the mood-enhancing impact of aerobic exercise.

Brain Training is The Bomb

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

It turns out that those mushroom clouds from atomic bomb tests in the 1950s and 60s brought a boon to researchers of brain development. Using carbon dating, researchers from the lauded Karolinska Institute in Sweden have determined that a staggering 1/3 or more of brain cells in the brain’s hippocampus are renewed during our lifetime.  This refutes the often-heard criticism of brain training that our brain power is essentially fixed.  The hippocampus houses all of the critical brain functions that govern memory, comprehension, and decision-making.

“We provide the first evidence that there is substantial neurogenesis in the human hippocampus throughout life, suggesting that the new neurons may contribute to human brain function,” said senior study author Jonas Frisén of the Karolinska Institute.

The relatively brief period during which above-ground nuclear tests were permitted gave the researchers the opportunity to trace the path of the Carbon-14 isotope (a by-product of nuclear testing) through the cells of people who lived during that era.  The findings showed that about 1,400 new neurons are being made each day, and the rate of neurogenesis doesn’t decrease with age.

Not seeing results: Anyone here didn’t see beenfits for a while, but did eventually?

Friday, June 7th, 2013

Any late-bloomers out there? If you didn’t see any benefits with initial training ( by “initial” i mean completing a full 19 day program, at least), but stuck with it and eventually saw some?

Training not working for me thus far. I finished the 19 sessions, took a five day break, and just did another sessions. I was training in a single -n mode, and also doing practice exercises in dual-mode in the final five days (levels 1 and 2 only as not to go against recommendation). I did not notice any improvement in my daily life in terms of memory, concentration, or processing speed. I reached N4.7 (3rd level) at the end of my 19 days. My N went up slightly to 4.9 today, but even that is not very impressive since I had higher averages at 2 previous sessions. Furthermore, I took a makeshift iq test ( I used the logical reasoning section from an LSAT book. In my opinion, it’s a much more reliable test of fluid intelligence than the internet iq tests, and has more real-life correlation than plugging through a bunch of visual patterns) and scored the same as I did a few years ago.

It would be encouraging to see if others have been in this situation. I feel like I might just end up quitting if I continue not seeing results

I want to give it one more shot and plan to train for 19 more days in dual-mode. I will even try to do two sessions a day. If that doesn’t work, than that’s that.

Mindfulness as Brain Training

Monday, April 1st, 2013
mindfulness for brain training


A team from UC Santa Barbara has shown that just two weeks of mindfulness training can significantly improve reading comprehension, working memory capacity, and focus.

Published in Psychological Science and led by Michael Mrazek, the study, “Mindfulness Training Improves Working Memory Capacity and GRE Performance While Reducing Mind Wandering” surprised the researchers with its clear-cut results: “What surprised me the most was actually the clarity of the results,” said Mrazek, “We found reduced mind-wandering in every way we measured it.”

Mindfulness is another term for full conscious engagement or presence of mind on the task at hand. When the mind wanders our performance on tasks requiring our attention declines.

Mrazek and his colleagues randomly assigned undergraduate students to either a mindfulness class or a class on nutrition. Before the classes started the students took a test of verbal reasoning from the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) and a working memory capacity (WMC) test. The researchers also measured mind-wandering during the tests.

After the classes the students re-took the tests.  Those who had taken the mindfulness class scored significantly better on both the verbal GRE test and the working memory capacity test. Their mind-wandering during testing had also diminished. For those who had taken the nutrition class, the researchers measured no such improvement.

“This is the most complete and rigorous demonstration that mindfulness can reduce mind-wandering, one of the clearest demonstrations that mindfulness can improve working memory and reading, and the first study to tie all this together to show that mind-wandering mediates the improvements in performance,” said Mrazek.

Brain Training with MindSparke’s Brain Fitness Pro is already a great mindfulness booster.  Here are three more that would be wonderful adjuncts to the training:

1. RAIN.

To be used when a strong feeling comes up:

R – recognize what you’re feeling.

A – acknowledge it.

I – investigate its various aspects, and

N – non-identify; “it’s not me, it’s something I’m feeling.”

2. STOP.

Give yourself room to breathe when you’re thoughts are racing:

S - Stop what you are doing.

T - Breathe normally and be mindful of your breath entering and leaving your body.

O - Observe your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Don’t try to keep thoughts or feelings out, just acknowledge them and move on.

P - Proceed by giving yourself you need to feel supported; reach out to someone who can listen, for instance, or deliberately put your current thoughts and feelings into a broader perspective.

3. Walk.

Not an acronym this time. Just a great activity for helping us practice mindfulness.  Rather than walking in a state of distraction, though, focus on the physical and mechanical aspects of the act of walking, your legs and feet moving, your balance shifting, your breath supporting your movements. Likewise you can turn your mindful attention to the world around you.  The sights, sounds, smells and sensations of the places you’re walking through.


Why Stress Affects Working Memory

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

Prior studies have shown that stress reduces working memory capacity, and now a new study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin (Madison) sheds light on the neural processes behind this phenomenon. By observing individual neural activity while rats followed a maze, the team discovered how stress affected the firing of neurons and reduced the rats ability to focus and remember their way through the maze. The researchers discovered that stress doesn’t inhibit neural activity but instead changes it, making it less effective at staying on task.

The brain uses working memory (a function of the prefontal cortex) to hold pertinent information in the foreground, swapping vital data in and out of longer term storage as needed.

“You don’t need that part of the brain to hear or talk, to keep long-term memories, or to remember what you did as a child or what you read in the newspaper three days ago,” said Dr. Craig Berridge, UW–Madison psychology professor. But it’s essential for focusing attention and modulating emotions.

“People without a prefrontal cortex are very distractible,” Berridge said. “They’re very impulsive. They can be very argumentative.”

Using a novel statistical modeling method the researchers showed that rat prefrontal neurons fired and re-fired regularly to keep important information fresh.

“Even though these neurons communicate on a scale of every thousandth of a second, they know what they did one second to one-and-a-half seconds ago,” Devilbiss said. “But if the neuron doesn’t stimulate itself again within a little more than a second, it’s lost that information.”

When the researchers added a blast of white noise a rat’s ability to complete the maze dropped from 90% to 65%. Neural monitoring shows that the stressed rats couldn’t retain information about how to get to the next chocolate chip reward, reacting to distractions such as noises and smells around them instead.

“The literature tells us that stress plays a role in more than half of all workplace accidents, and a lot of people have to work under what we would consider a great deal of stress,” Devilbiss said.

“Air traffic controllers need to concentrate and focus with a lot riding on their actions. People in the military have to carry out these thought processes in conditions that would be very distracting, and now we know that this distraction is happening at the level of individual cells in the brain.”

“Based on drug studies, it had been believed stress simply suppressed prefrontal cortex activity,” Berridge said. “These studies demonstrate that rather than suppressing activity, stress modifies the nature of that activity. Treatments that keep neurons on their self-stimulating task while shutting out distractions may help protect working memory.”

Post-Operative Brain Training Helps Restore Cognitive Function

Saturday, September 22nd, 2012
Brain training helps to significantly reduce attention and memory problems after coronary bypass surgery.  This is the conclusion of a study by Dr. Louis Bherer, PhD from the Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal (IUGM). Dr. Bherer is also Canadian Research Chair at the Aging and the Prevention of Cognitive Decline.

“It is clear that seniors’ brains have a certain degree of plasticity,” Dr. Louis Bherer noted, “[the research] suggests that patients should receive cognitive training in addition to the usual medical follow-up.” Prior to surgery, the researchers tested the participants’ overall cognitive function including memory, processing speed, and attention. The tests were repeated 3 to 7 days post-surgery and again one month later. Those who received attention and memory training showed greater and more rapid cognitive recovery than those who received no training.

In Defense of Chunking

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

There has been a good deal of discussion on the brain training blog about the use of strategies to improve training performance.  One such strategy is called “chunking”– replacing a sequence of letters, numbers or grid positions with something representative.  So the letter sequence P, K, G we could remember as the word “package”.  Generally we advise against the use of complex strategies since it reduces the need for the brain to stretch and remember more items.  But at the same time we realize that most people will resort to such strategies from time to time.

Today I read a piece in the Atlantic that proposes the idea that learning to become better “chunkers” could be a valuable brain training activity. The article discusses some of the ideas in a new book by Daniel Bor (“The Ravenous Brain”).  Here is what Bor has to say about chunking:

Although [chunking] can vastly increase the practical limits of working memory, it is not merely a faithful servant of working memory — instead it is the secret master of this online store, and the main purpose of consciousness.


There are three straightforward sides to the chunking process — the search for chunks, the noticing and memorizing of those chunks, and the use of the chunks we’ve already built up. The main purpose of consciousness is to search for and discover these structured chunks of information within working memory, so that they can then be used efficiently and automatically, with minimal further input from consciousness.

Perhaps what most distinguishes us humans from the rest of the animal kingdom is our ravenous desire to find structure in the information we pick up in the world. We cannot help actively searching for patterns — any hook in the data that will aid our performance and understanding. We constantly look for regularities in every facet of our lives, and there are few limits to what we can learn and improve on as we make these discoveries. We also develop strategies to further help us — strategies that themselves are forms of patterns that assist us in spotting other patterns…

These insights help explain both the value of chunking and the advantages of being better chunkers, as well as the value of focus and working memory!

I would still not recommend chunking as a habitual strategy when training with MindSparke.  Although neither would I say that would should avoid it altogether.  It will happen naturally. The great thing about Stage 4 of the training is that it exercises and strengthens our ability to store, pattern and recall pieces of information that we would not normally need to “chunk” in our daily lives (colors and shapes, for instance).  This is fantastic training for the brain.

Brain Training Report – Andrew – Stage 3, Session 5

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

Stage: 3

Session number: 5

Average n-back: 2.8

This program is really working, I can see that my memory retention for these exercises are slowly improving on a daily basis. During Stage 3 Session 3 I smoked a blunt but my score did not decrease from the previous session, instead it had increased. This software is amazing I especially like using it for 30 minutes and then proceed to RosettaStone right after :)

MindSparke Brain Training Software

This post was submitted by Andrew.

Brain Training Report – Javi – Stage 1, Session 1

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

Stage: 1

Session number: 1

Average n-back: 4.45

I got everything correct for the first 16 rounds or so, then I actually almost physically felt my brain being exercise and worn out, and I got a couple incorrect at N=6. I’m really liking these exercises

MindSparke Brain Fitness Software

This post was submitted by Javier Acevedo.