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Brain Training: Discover the Benefits of Brain Exercises

Much has been said about physical exercise and the multiple benefits it to your body. However, what about brain exercises? Do we really know what benefits you can get from brain games? Discover what brain training is about and how cognitive stimulation can benefit us throughout our lives.

What is cognitive stimulation and how does it work?

Brain gym and cognitive rehabilitation are synonyms to refer to cognitive stimulation techniques. However, what is brain stimulation?

Cognitive stimulations are actions and activities where the main objective is to improve or maintain brain functions. It is about carrying out different exercises aimed at stimulating cognitive abilities such as attention, memory, language, executive functions, visuospatial functions, perception, etc.

When the brain is not stimulated it tends to get weaker and weaker. Our neurons which are responsible for receiving, processing and transmitting information through chemical signals, are the main engine of our brain. Therefore, when we exercise our brain, what we do is stimulate our neurons so that they regenerate, both anatomically and functionally, and form new connections.

At a scientific level, it has been shown that brain training regularly stimulates brain plasticity. Even if we don’t realize it, in our daily actions whether it’s reading a book, driving to work or cooking we exercise our neurons. However, our brain tends to stimulate the parts that it uses most but we stop stimulating very important parts. That’s why it’s important to do a proper brain training to train all the functions.

In order for brain training to be more effective, it must be adapted to the person who is doing it and look for the ideal moment when the brain is at its maximum level of activity.

To understand well what brain training and cognitive stimulation are about, we must learn and understand concepts such as brain plasticity.

Broadly speaking, according to recent research we can say that brain plasticity (or neuroplasticity) is “the ability of the nervous system to change its structure and functioning throughout its life, as a reaction to the diversity in the environment”.

In other words, brain plasticity allows the brain to adapt to new situations or even sometimes recover after suffering injuries or certain pathologies. In this way, brain training and cognitive stimulation aim to help the brain generate new connections between neurons thus promoting greater brain plasticity.

Brain Training

Brain training can (and should) be performed by everyone. Children in an early intervention during the first years of life, or adults when enhancing the skills required in different jobs, everyone can benefit. In people with cognitive impairments, cognitive stimulation is essential for the deterioration to be slower even though unfortunately, the impairment is irreversible.

People tend to associate cognitive stimulation only for people who have some alteration. It is true that cognitive stimulation is the most supported non-pharmacological intervention applied to people with mild cognitive impairment, mild dementia or even normal aging.

Brain Training- Neuroplasticity

Cognitive stimulation and brain training not only work on cognitive processes but they are perfect for anyone, with or without pathologies.

Brain Training for Children and Teenagers

The brain continues to develop since we are born. Childhood and adolescence are especially critical stages as they form brain crisis periods where the brain undergoes drastic changes. There are many differences between a brain and an adult brain.

Brain plasticity appears every time we learn something new, and it stays that way throughout life. Our brain is prepared to learn over the years, but we have to exercise it.

Neuroeducation or brain-based technology is now part of education. Brain training helps children relax and concentrate. Teachers can use puzzles, reading, crossword puzzles, etc.

Brain training results are visible in children over time. They understand reading better and solve problems and exercise better than children who have not trained. These children tend to develop their creativity and have better study habits which give them a better quality of life.

Among the most relevant cognitive abilities to train in children are planning, working memory, cognitive flexibility, reasoning and creativity among others.

Brain Stimulation in Healthy Adults

If we want our brains to age in a healthy way, we must stay active both physically and mentally.

Wanting is power and neuroscience is helping a lot. When we talk about staying mentally active, we think of spending hours and hours doing additions, subtractions, math problems… Wrong! It is clear that activities like these can help stimulate mental capacities but they are not the only ones, nor are they the best way to activate your brain.

There are traditional board games (cards, bingo, etc.), question and answer games and even digital leisure games (video games) that can bring us benefits. Discover brain games that can help train your mind.

Brain training traditional Games

Traditional games can bring us benefits such as:

  • Social interactions. They are extremely important for brain development and reduce loneliness.
  • Moods improve and motivation and self-esteem increase.
  • It increases self-efficacy, increases levels of satisfaction and coping capacity in stressful situations.
  • Exercising cognitive skills enhances sensory perception and improves the maintenance of healthy habits

the other hand, some video games can improve people’s executive processes.

Some researchers have wondered whether video games benefit brain functions that deteriorate over time and after several studies, they concluded that video games such as “Rise of Nations” improve cognitive abilities.

Brain training with video games

This particular video game (“Rise of Nations”) consists of “conquering the world” by building cities, expanding territories, maintaining armies and caring for citizens. Among the most significant cognitive improvements that have been found in Kramer’s team study are processing speed, updating, shifting, reasoning, spatial memory, etc

There are also pages where you can carry out personalized brain training.

By regular brain training, over time we retain more information and faster. The trick is to perform different activities to relax your mind and get better results.

CogniFit Brain Training: Trains and strengthens essential cognitive abilities in an optimal and professional way.

For example: When Einstein was exhausted he would play the violin to clear his head, thus solving his mathematical problems better. Apply it to yourself!

Among the benefits of cognitive stimulation in healthy adults we find:

  • Increased brain function.
  • Prevention of cognitive deficits.
  • Better brain plasticity and greater potential therefore, you will be more skillful.

Brain Training in Adults with Brain Injury

In people with some kind of impairment, cognitive stimulation is essential. It is the main non-pharmacological treatment used in cognitive impairment and dementias to slow evolution and preserve abilities.

  • Benefits of cognitive stimulation in adults with some impairment are:
  • Keep non-altered cognitive functions healthy.
  • Improve brain plasticity.
  • Increase in the quality of life and delay in the evolution of the disease.
  • The activities must always be adapted to the person and their degree of deterioration.

Some activities that can be carried out in adults with any type of brain injury, deterioration or dementia are:

  • Attention exercises: Counting
  • Language exercises: Ordering letters to form words, crosswords, word searches, completing words, etc.
  • Mobility exercises: You can use everyday tasks to make the person feel entertained and motivated.
  • Time estimation exercises: Keeping a calendar, a clock or anything that they can have as a reference.
  • Number exercises: Math problems, additions, subtractions, etc.
  • Creativity exercises: Drawings can be used to encourage people’s creativity and motivation.
  • Reading exercises: Newspapers, books, magazines adapted to the person’s tastes.

Just as we take care of our bodies, we must remember that it is important to take care of our brain. Brain training is a great resource for strengthening our mental abilities. Remember that it is never too late to train your brain.

And what do you do to train your brain? ????

Hippocampus: the orchestra director in the deepest part of our brain

Hippocampus. Have you ever gone blank and forgotten what you were going to say? Our brain is full of important data and information that we have stored over the years. Sometimes we have so much information that we force our brain to get rid and ignore some data. The part of the brain in charge of such important functions as memory and learning is the hippocampus. Without this brain structure, we would lose the ability to remember and feel the emotions associated with memories. You want to know more? Keep reading!

Hippocampus

What is the Hippocampus?

The hippocampus is named after the anatomist Giulio Cesare Aranzio who in the 16th century observed that this brain structure bears a great resemblance to a seahorse.

The word hippocampus comes from the Greek Hippos (horse) and Kampe (crooked). In his discovery, this part of the brain was related to the sense of smell and he advocated the explanation that the hippocampus’ main function was to process the olfactory stimuli.

This explanation was defended until in 1890 when Vladimir Béjterev demonstrated the actual function of the hippocampus in relation to memory and cognitive processes. It is one of the most important parts of the human brain because it is closely related to memory functioning and emotions. It is a small organ located within the temporal lobe (approximately behind each temple), which communicates with different areas of the cerebral cortex in what is known as the “hippocampus system.” It is a small organ with an elongated and curved shape. Inside our brain, we have two hippocampi, one in each hemisphere (left and right).

The hippocampus is known as the main structure in memory processing.

Where is the Hippocampus?

It is very well located, connected to different regions of the brain. It is located in the middle temporal lobe.

The hippocampus along with other brain structures such as the amygdala and hypothalamus form the limbic system and are responsible for managing the most primitive physiological responses. They belong to the most “ancient, deep and primitive” part of the brain, in a part of the brain known as “archicortex” (the oldest region of the human brain) that appeared millions of years ago in our ancestors to meet their most basic needs.

The blue part is the hippocampus

What does the Hippocampus do?

Among its main functions are the mental processes related to memory consolidation and the learning process. As well as, processes associated with the regulation and production of emotional states and spatial perception. How does the brain learn?

Some research has also linked it to behavioral inhibition, but this information is still in the research phase as it is fairly recent.

Hippocampus and Memory

The hippocampus is primarily related to emotional memory and declarative memory. It allows us to identify faces, to describe different things and to associate the positive or negative feelings that we feel with the memories of the lived events.

It intervenes in forming both episodic and autobiographical memories from the experiences we are living. The brain needs to “make room” to be able to store all the information over the years and for this, it transfers the temporal memories to other areas of the brain where memory storage takes place in the long term.

In this way, older memories take longer to disappear. If the hippocampus were damaged, we would lose the ability to learn and the ability to retain information in memory. In addition to allowing the information to pass into long-term memory, it links the contents of the memory with positive or negative emotions that correspond depending on whether the memories are associated with good or bad experiences.

There are many types of memory: semantic memory, visual memory, working memory, implicit memory, etc. In the case of the hippocampus, it intervenes specifically in declarative memory (it covers our personal experiences and the knowledge we have about the world), managing the contents that can be expressed verbally. The different types of memory are not governed solely by the hippocampus but are formed by other brain regions. It does not take care of all the processes related to memory loss but it covers a good part of them.

Hippocampus and Learning

It allows learning and retention of information since it is one of the few areas of the brain that have neurogenesis throughout life.

That is, it has the ability to generate new neurons and new connections between neurons throughout the life cycle. Learning is acquired gradually after many efforts and this is directly related to it. For new information to be consolidated in our brains, it is vitally important that new connections are formed between neurons. That is why the hippocampus has a fundamental role in learning.

Curiosity: Is it true that the hippocampus of London taxi drivers is bigger or more developed? Why? London taxi drivers must pass a hard memory test where they must memorize a myriad of streets and places to get the license. In the year 2000, Maguire studied London taxi drivers and observed that the posterior hippocampus was greater. He also noted that the size was directly proportional to the time the taxi drivers were working. This is because of the effect of training, learning and experience changes and shapes the brain.

Spatial perception and its relationship with the hippocampus

Another important function in which the hippocampus stands out is the spatial orientation, where it plays a very important role.

Spatial perception helps us to keep our mind and body in a three-dimensional space. It allows us to move and helps us interact with the world around us.

There have been different studies with mice where it is stated that it is an area of vital importance for orientation capacity and spatial memory.

Thanks to its correct functioning, we are capable of performing acts such as guiding us through cities we do not know, etc. However, the data concerning people are much more limited and more research is needed.

What happens when the hippocampus is disturbed?

An injury to the hippocampus can mean problems generating new memories. An brain injury can cause anterograde amnesia, affecting specific memories but leaving intact learning skills or abilities.

Lesions can cause anterograde or retrograde amnesia. Non-declarative memory would remain intact and uninjured. For example, a person with a hippocampal injury may learn to ride a bicycle after the injury, but he would not remember ever seeing a bicycle. That is, a person with the damaged hippocampus can continue to learn skills but not remember the process.

Anterograde amnesia is memory loss that affects events occurring after the injury. Retrograde amnesia, on the other hand, affects the forgetfulness generated before the injury.

At this point, you will wonder why the hippocampus is damaged when there are cases of amnesia. It is simple, this part of the brain acts as a gateway to brain patterns that sporadically retain events until they pass to the frontal lobe. One could say that the hippocampus is key to memory consolidation, transforming short-term memory into long-term memory. If this access door is damaged and you can’t save the information, it won’t be possible to produce longer-term memories. In addition to losing the ability to remember, when injuries or damage to the hippocampus occurs, you may lose the ability to feel the emotions associated with such memories, since you would not be able to relate the memories to the emotions that evoke it.

Why can the Hippocampus be damaged?

Most of the alterations that may occur in the hippocampus are produced as a result of aging and neurodegenerative diseases, stress, stroke, epilepsy, aneurysms, encephalitis, schizophrenia.

Aging and dementias

In aging in general and dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease in particular, the hippocampus is one of the areas that has previously been damaged, impairing the ability to form new memories or the ability to recall more or less recent autobiographical information. Memory problems, in this case, are associated with the death of hippocampal neurons.

Most of us know of someone who has suffered or suffers from some kind of dementia and has experienced memory loss. It is curious how the memories that remain are childhood memories or the oldest memories. You may wonder why this happens if the hippocampus is supposed to be damaged.

Well, although it is severely damaged (whether by dementia or any other type of illness), the most common memories are the oldest and they are also the most relevant to the life of the person. This is because over time these memories have been “becoming independent” of the hippocampus to be part of other structures related to long-term memory.

Hippocampus and stress

This region of the brain is very vulnerable to periods of stress because it inhibits and atrophies the neurons of this structure.

Have you noticed that when we are very stressed and we have a billion things to do sometimes we feel forgetful?

Stress and specifically cortisol (a type of hormone that is released in response to stressful moments) damage our brain structures sometimes causing neuronal death. That is why it is fundamental that we learn to remain calm and manage our emotions to get our hippocampus to remain strong and continue to exercise their functions optimally.

To know more watch the following video.

If you like this super interesting subject about memory, I recommend you watch the movie “Memento”. I’ll leave the trailer here so you can see what it’s about.

If you liked this post, leave your comment below. I will be happy to read it and answer your questions :).

This article is originally in Spanish written by Mairena Vázquez, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

Evaluative Conditioning: The How and Why of Forming Opinions without Facts.

Have you ever wondered why we judge a book by its cover? Here, you will read about how and why we form first opinions without evidence and pass judgment on things we barely know. A process termed evaluative conditioning tries to give an explanation on why the book with the beautiful cover is nicely written.

Evaluative Conditioning: Why we judge a book by its cover.

Every day, each of us is exposed to several different, and often new, experiences. This is inevitable in a world as dynamic and diverse as ours. A new shop opened three blocks down the road, Katie has a new boyfriend and your favorite musician just released his new album. Sometimes, we then catch ourselves judging things we barely know and giving opinions on matters we scarcely heard of. I’m sure that new shop won’t last much longer than the previous one, Katie’s boyfriend is most likely a handsome lad and the new album? Well, that’s undoubtedly going to be terrific! However, are our predictions true? And on what ground do we so confidently exclaim what arguably has no basis? These questions are of importance for both psychological and industrial research. How we evaluate our surrounding influences our behavior towards it. That said, whoever understands its underlying mechanisms and manages to willingly direct them could, in turn, manipulate a patient into ceasing ill behavior or a client into buying a certain product.

Classical conditioning: learning based on experience

Classical Conditioning: also known as Pavlovian conditioning

One mechanism of interest was termed evaluative conditioning. It was named in accordance to the previously established classical conditioning. The latter, famous for its initial experiments by Pavlov featuring dog salivation, describes a learning process that creates expectations based on reoccurring patterns. If a situation is always followed by the same event, just experiencing the first will be enough to foretell that the other will also set in.

So, for example, when you see the signaling light of a car’s left blinker, you automatically expect it to take a left turn. This is the natural sequence of events, as we have learned to know it: blinking light then turning the car.

Classical conditioning

First empirical research on this dogma was conducted on dogs. Each time they were fed, the same ringing noise of a bell would precede the serving of their food. At first, the dogs would happily welcome the meal, spittle flowing into their mouth once the food was presented to them. Then, after some time, the saliva would start dripping just by the mere sound of the bell. Over time, the dogs had learned that when the bell starts ringing, food will soon follow. Formally, the ringing of the bell was categorized as a conditioned stimulus (CS), while the serving of food was described as an unconditioned stimulus (US). Thereafter, it was concluded that the process termed classical conditioning occurs when one stimulus, an unconditioned stimulus, is reliably preceded by another stimulus, a neutral stimulus. The meaning of the latter unconditioned stimulus is applied to the neutral stimulus. Once the association is set, the neutral stimulus is termed conditioned stimulus, as it triggers the same reaction pattern as the unconditioned one. If we apply this to our example with the car, then the blinking light would be the conditioned stimulus, while the subsequent turning would be the unconditioned. Furthermore, the blinkers would be meaningless unless they were to reliably indicate the turning of the car.

Afterward, several studies were conducted on classical conditioning elucidating its properties. As turns out, the stimuli do not have to co-occur every time, just frequent enough. Furthermore, the required rate depends on the nature of the stimuli, as some can be stronger indicators than others. The research was also conducted on the stability of the effect. Here, it was shown that once the stimuli reliably stop cooccurring, the association ceases to exist. From that point onwards, the conditioned stimulus returns to being a neutral stimulus.

Evaluative conditioning: opinions based on experience

Evaluative Conditioning

While the basis of evaluative conditioning is found in classical conditioning, its roots dig deeper. It emerged from research on attitudes. As it became clear that evaluative conditioning could be one mechanism influencing the formation and change of attitudes, a research field of its own was established. Evaluative conditioning follows similar rules to classical conditioning, as both have an unconditioned and a conditioned stimulus. Here, however, one event is not followed by the other, but both occur at the same time. Also, instead of predicting an immediate event and preparing the appropriate reaction to it, a long-term influence is predicted and the appropriate stance towards it chosen.

Opinions influence behavior

It goes like this: the rating of something on a two-dimensional scale (such as good and bad, likes and dislikes), officially called valence, influences the behavior towards it. You approach something you like and distance yourself from something you do not like. Hereby, imminent harmful or even life-threatening events must be disregarded, as a defense, and self-preserving mechanisms would influence behavior in ways beyond just attitudes. You approach or distance yourself from something that may have a long-term positive or negative influence on you. You recently got to know Thomas, however, you do not like Thomas. He has opinions you disagree with. Although he does nothing harmful, you guess that he would still be a “bad” influence on you. Therefore, you try to distance yourself from him. (Sorry to all Thomas’, it is just an example, please do not take it personally.)

Baseless assumptions?

If then an unknown factor appears together with an already judged factor, the process called evaluative conditioning uses the assessment of the known one to predict the long-term influence of the new event. In other words, this is a mechanism that uses the categorization of a known target to sort a somehow connected but still unknown target into the same subjective two-dimensional scale (e.g. good and bad, like and dislike).

For ease of comparison, the events were similarly named to those of classical conditioning. First, we have an unconditioned stimulus which is either positively or negatively valenced. Then, we have the conditioned stimulus with a neutral valence, or at least a lesser valence, than that of its unconditioned counterpart. When both stimuli are then viewed together, seemingly connected to each other, the opinion of the unconditioned stimulus is then applied to the conditioned one.

Sorry Thomas, but to keep to our example: if this previously mentioned Thomas appears with a friend of his, you will most likely be not too keen on getting to know this new fellow. He will probably have a similar conviction to the one you disagree with and would, therefore, be the same “bad” influence as Thomas. Thus, he is just as unlikable as his friend. Hereby, a cognitive association between Thomas and this stranger was created that categorized the unknown person similarly to the known Thomas, thereby triggering a distancing stance towards the new subject. It goes without saying that we have no factual evidence of this newly met person to be as “bad” as the first, furthermore we do not know for certain if Thomas would influence us in a wrong way.

Properties of evaluative conditioning

It seems that the attitude adopted is always that of the more extreme opinion. To clarify, if a slightly negative and a strongly positive viewed stimulus appear together, the slightly negative will surely be judged more positively upon that. If your best friend Rebecca suddenly introduces you to an acquaintance of hers, surprisingly the same stranger you saw earlier chatting with Thomas in a friendly manner, then you will probably change your mind and give him a chance. Rebecca is awesome, no chance in hell that this guy could be a disappointment. Sure, he seemed friendly with Thomas earlier, but if he is with Rebecca, then he will be all right.

However, it should be noted, especially regarding our example with poor Thomas, that it is still under debate whether this change of valence occurs consciously or subconsciously, or if it even could be prevented through conscious knowledge. Even more, no hard evidence was presented on how we were to judge a positive or negative conditioned stimulus after several presentations with neutral stimuli. Unfortunately, some studies showed that after repeated co-occurrence the formerly conditioned stimulus turns neutral again, while other showed that the valence evaluation resists this so-called extinction phase. At last, the timing seems to play a role in the process. It was shown that evaluative conditioning works best when both stimuli appear at the same time. Nonetheless, if the conditioned stimulus is presented shortly before or after the unconditioned stimulus, the conditioning can still take place.

Implications of evaluative conditioning

Evaluative Conditioning

Knowledge about opinion formation and their change is a serious topic and like many others must be approached with responsibility. Private companies are most likely already conducting research in the field, as efficiently associating a product with something pleasant could greatly boost their sales. There are two main problems with this:

  1. First, these findings would not be accessible to neither the public nor other researchers.
  2. The second problem we face is that its properties are not fully understood. This means that whoever uncovers them could influence the public without a specialist’s notice.

For example, if it were to turn out that evaluative conditioning functions only subconsciously, commercials would be viewed while the tv-program is running, instead of in-between, or products would appear more often in the background of a movie. These changes would seem insignificant to the eyes of an unknowledgeable observer, while actually heavily influencing sales. That said, research funds must be invested into topics such as opinion formation, thereby preventing their abuse for personal gain (as a possible propaganda tool, for instance) while utilizing their enormous potential.

Think of the benefit for health care. Unhealthy behavior (such as certain addictions) could be cured or productivity and motivation increased through according to associations. So, if someone had a horrifying phobia that impeded his life’s quality, for example, the poor botanist Steven with his sudden fear of spiders after an unfortunate vacation, simple associations with strongly positive topics could hastily cure his unpleasant situation. Or, as media addiction is a seemingly increasing problem among our youths, this knowledge could be used to reintroduce the fun of the real-life through gradually improving the attitude towards real experiences. Furthermore, these findings could bear a countermeasure against prejudice, that would benefit the whole of humanity.

Nonetheless, we have a long way ahead of us until then. The current findings can be contradicting and confusing. Most of the research was done on humans which bears certain risks such as demand awareness, among others. Demand awareness can create artificial results due to the test subjects suspecting what results are looked for and reacting accordingly. It should be noted that findings from other research fields suggest that animals also like and dislike, just as us, and have ways of expressing these feelings. I would suggest an additional approach through animal experiments. This would extinguish some of the risks, while at the same time rendering the results more comparable to other experiments on evaluative conditioning and classical conditioning. However, we must acknowledge the research done on the topic and encourage the researchers to keep up their work, stay creative and not give up when all seems to play out differently. The first step to shorten the distance to the above-mentioned vision and prevent abuse of important findings is to create awareness of this field so that more researchers are acknowledged funds to look further into evaluative conditioning.

Check out the following articles to get further knowledge on the topic and give credit to the diligent men and women who worked hard for this knowledge:

References

Bethell, E. J. (2015). A “how-to” guide for designing judgment bias studies to assess captive animal welfare. Journal of applied animal welfare science, 18 Suppl 1, S18-42. doi:10.1080/10888705.2015.1075833

Bohner, G., & Dickel, N. (2011). Attitudes and attitude change. Annual review of psychology, 62, 391–417. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.121208.131609

Davey, G. C. (1994). Is evaluative conditioning a qualitatively distinct form of classical conditioning? Behavior research and therapy, 32(3), 291–299.

De Houwer, J., Thomas, S., & Baeyens, F. (2001). Association learning of likes and dislikes: A review of 25 years of research on human evaluative conditioning. Psychological bulletin, 127(6), 853–869. doi:10.1037//0033-2909.127.6.853

Field, A. P. (2000). Evaluative conditioning is pavlovian conditioning: Issues of definition, measurement, and the theoretical importance of contingency awareness. Consciousness and cognition, 9(1), 41–49. doi:10.1006/ccog.1999.0412

Gawronski, B., & Bodenhausen, G. V. (2006). Associative and propositional processes in evaluation: An integrative review of implicit and explicit attitude change. Psychological bulletin, 132(5), 692–731. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.132.5.692

Havermans, R. C., & Jansen, A. (2007). Evaluative conditioning: A review and a model. Netherlands journal of psychology, 63(2), 31–41. doi:10.1007/BF03061060

Rozin, P., Wrzesniewski, A., & Byrnes, D. (1998). The elusiveness of evaluative conditioning. Learning and motivation, 29(4), 397–415. doi:10.1006/lmot.1998.1012

 

Frontal Lobe: Areas, functions and disorders related to it

The brain is divided into four lobes, differentiated by their location and functions. In this article, we are going to focus on one of the lobes: the frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is the biggest lobe in the brain and the most important lobe for the human species. 

Why is the frontal lobe so relevant? What are its functions? The following article will give you an all-inclusive look on the frontal lobe. 

Frontal lobe

Frontal Lobe: Anatomy and Functions

The Frontal lobe is located at the front of the brain, at the front of each cerebral hemisphere and in front of the parietal lobe. It is considered the most important lobe due to its functions and because it takes up one-third of the total brain. In other species its volume is inferior (chimpanzees 17% and dogs 7%).

The functions of the frontal lobe depend on the area we focus on. It plays a part on movement control as well as in high-level mental functions or behavior and emotional control. The frontal lobe is divided into two main areas: the motor cortex and the prefrontal cortex.

Motor cortex in the frontal lobe

The main function of the motor cortex is to control voluntary movement, including the ones in expressive language, writing, and ocular movement. This cortex is divided into three areas:

Primary Motor Cortex

Sends commands to the neurons in the brain stems and spinal cord. These neurons are in charge of specific voluntary movements. Inside the primary motor cortex, of both hemispheres, there is a representation of the contralateral half of the body. That is, in each hemisphere, there is a representation of the opposite side of the body.This is known as the motor homunculus and it is inverted, therefore the head is represented at the bottom.

Premotor Cortex

This area is in control of the preparation and movement programming. Premotor cortex automates, harmonizes and archives movement programs related to previous experiences. Within the premotor cortex:

  • Supplementary motor area: in charge of controlling postural stability during stance or walking.
  • Ocular field: controls the joint deviation of the gaze when voluntary exploring a field.
Broca’s Area

It’s considered the center for producing speech, writing, and also in language processing and comprehension. It coordinates movements of the mouth, larynx and respiratory organs that control language expression. Injuries can produce different language disorders. 

Prefrontal Cortex of the Front lobe

The prefrontal cortex is located in the front part of the frontal lobe. It is considered the ultimate expression of human brain development. It is responsible for cognition, behavior and emotional activity. Prefrontal cortex receives information from the limbic system (involved in emotional control) and acts as a mediator between cognition and feelings through executive functions. Executive functions are a set of cognitive skills necessary for controlling and self-regulating your behavior. Within the prefrontal cortex, three areas or circuits are important: dorsolateral, anterior and orbital cingulum.

Dorsolateral area of the frontal lobe

It is one of the most recently evolved parts of the human brain. It establishes connections with the other three brain areas and transforms the information into thoughts, decisions, plans, and actions. It is in charge of superior cognitive abilities such as:

  • Attention: Focus, inhibition, and divided attention.
  • Working memory: maintenance and manipulation of the information.
  • Short-term memory: ordering events.
  • Prospective memory: programming upcoming actions.
  • Hypothesis generator: analysis of the possible outcomes.
  • Metacognition: self-analysis of cognitive activity and continuous performance.
  • Problem Resolution: analysis of the situation and development of an action plan.
  • Shifting: the ability to adapt to new situations.
  • Planning: organizing behavior towards a new objective.

General Cognitive Assessment Battery from CogniFit: Study brain function and complete a comprehensive online screening. Precisely evaluate a wide range of abilities and detect cognitive well-being (high-moderate-low). Identify strengths and weaknesses in the areas of memory, concentration/attention, executive functions, planning, and coordination.

Anterior cingulum of the frontal lobe

This area regulates motivational processes. It’s also in charge of perceiving and resolving conflicts as well as regulating sustained attention.

Orbital area of the frontal lobe

This area is in charge of controlling emotion and social conduct. It regulates emotional processing, controls behaviors based on context and detects beneficial or detrimental change.

A neuroscientist explains the frontal lobe and the types of disorders that can happen after an injury.

Frontal Lobe: Disorders related to it

As we have explained, the frontal lobe is involved in different processes (motors, cognitive, emotional and behavioral). This is why disorders due to injuries suffered to this area can vary from concussion symptoms to others more severe.

Motor disorders

Injuries to the primary or premotor cortex can cause difficulties in the velocity, execution and movement coordination, all leading to different types of apraxia. Apraxia is a disorder in which the individual has difficulty with the motor planning to perform tasks or movements when asked, provided that the request or command is understood and he/she is willing to perform the task. A University of Toronto scientist has discovered the brain’s frontal lobe is involved in pain transmission to the spine. If his findings in animals bear out in people, the discovery could lead to a new class of non-addictive painkillers.

  • Ideomotor apraxia: Deficits or difficulty in their ability to plan or complete previously learned motor actions, especially those that need an instrument or prop. They are able to explain how to perform an action but can’t act out a movement.
  • Limb-kinetic apraxia: voluntary movements of extremities are impaired. For example, they can’t use their fingers in a coordinated fashion (waving).
  • Buccofacial or orofacial apraxia: Difficulty carrying out movements of the face, tongue, mouth, cheeks, etc. on demand.

Apart from the apraxias, other disorders can be developed from injuries to the frontal lobe, such as language disorders or aphasias.

  • Transcortical Motor Aphasia: language disorder due to which the person has a lack of verbal fluency (slow speech with reduced content and poorly organized), limited spontaneous language (lack of initiative) and difficulty or incapacity in writing.
  • Broca’s Aphasia: language disorder that generates a lack of verbal fluency, anomia (inability to access the lexicon to evoke words), poor syntactic construction in speech, difficulties in repetition, reading and writing.

Dysexecutive syndrome

It consists of a group of symptoms, cognitive, behavioral and emotional that tend to happen together. However, the symptoms are going to depend on the injured area:

Dorsolateral Area

An injury in this area is usually related to cognitive problems such as:

  1. Inability to solve complex problems: decrease in fluid intelligence (reasoning, adapting and resolving of new situations, etc.).
  2. Cognitive rigidity and perseveration: the person maintains a thought or action despite being invited to change it.
  3. Decreased learning ability: difficulty in acquiring and maintaining new learning.
  4. Temporal memory impairment: deficit in the order things happened
  5. Deficiency in motor programming and changing motor activities: difficulties in the organization of sequences of movements and the time to change an activity.
  6. A decrease in verbal fluidity: impairment in the ability to recall words after an instruction. This action not only requires the lexical part but also organization, planning, focus and selective attention.
  7. Attention Deficit: difficulty maintaining your attention and inhibiting other irrelevant stimuli or changing the focus of attention.
  8. Pseudo-depressive disorders: similar symptoms to depression (sadness, apathy, etc.).
Anterior cingulum area
  1. Reduction of spontaneous activity: appear to be static.
  2. A loss in initiative and motivation: noticeable apathy.
  3. Alexithymia: difficulty identifying emotions and therefore inability in expressing own emotions.
  4. Language restriction: answers tend to be monosyllabic.
  5. Difficulty in controlling interference: selective attention impairment.
  6. Pseudo-depressive disorders. 
Orbital area

The symptoms of an injury in this area are more behavioral. The person’s behavior tends to be uninhibited.

  1. Changes in personality: high instability between who he is and how he acts. Similar to what happened to Phineas Gage. 
  2. Irritability and aggressiveness: exaggerated emotional reactions in daily life situations.
  3. Echopraxia: imitation of observed movements in others.
  4. Disinhibition and impulsivity: lack of self-control over their behavior.
  5. Difficulty adapting to social norms and rules: behaves socially unacceptable.
  6. Judgment is impaired: many reasoning errors.
  7. Lack of empathy: difficulty understanding other people’s feelings.
  8. Euphoria
 The frontal lobe is incredibly important for humans to function to their full potential. Even without brain injury, it’s crucial to maintain our cognitive skills active. CogniFit offers a complete assessment of your cognitive skills and brain training not only as a rehabilitation due to injury, dementia, etc. but it can also strengthen your current neural patterns. Brain health is essential to lead a full life.
Hope you liked this article, feel free to leave a message below!
This article is originally in Spanish written by Natalia Pasquin Mora, translated by Alejandra Salazar. 

Self-appraisal: apply this method to improve your performance.

What is self-appraisal? What is it for? What are its advantages and disadvantages? In this article, we will answer these questions and more. Also, we will give advice so that you can apply, self-evaluations to any aspect of your life. This method is not only great for students, it’s also necessary to establish what abilities are needed from us in different areas of life.

Self-appraisal

Self-appraisal: Meaning and importance

What is self-appraisal? A self-appraisal or self-evaluation is a method that allows evaluation of one’s own strengths and weaknesses in a specific task. The difference from hetero-evaluation and co-evaluation, is that the first is usually done by your boss or a superior and the latter is done by members of your group.

It’s possible to do self-assessments or self-appraisals through different methods. They are an essential tool in order to face with assurance any challenge. If we want a positive outcome it’s important to do a self-assessment in order to extract convenient conclusions and act accordingly.

Practice tests in driving education or at the end of a book chapter are examples of self-appraisals. Here you will find out everything you need to know so you can adequately estimate your knowledge and performance in different areas.

What are the purpose of self-appraisals?

We have all done have done a self-appraisal for one reason or another, be it to cause a good impression public speaking, to test our memory, or to inquire our strengths and weaknesses as friends or partners, etc. We will write the areas in which self-appraisal is key and how to use this tool.

Self-Appraisal in education

Regardless of the education stage, self-evaluation of knowledge, aptitude and cognitive abilities is essential to pass any subject. Generally, even if we haven’t done a self-assessment, when taking an exam or giving in a paper, we have an idea what the outcome might be. However, taking practice tests beforehand may help adjust our skills to the task objectives and help us overcome our academic challenges with precision and effectiveness. Self-appraisals allow each student to learn at their own pace in a responsible manner.

Nerves before an exam or a challenge is something natural in spite of our preparation. However, if we have practiced and corrected our mistakes previously we can tackle the task with trustworthiness and self-control. On the other hand, professors can also benefit from this tool to enhance their work performance or even make self-appraisal a class objective.

Neuroscience and educational neuroscience have aimed to improve formative assessments and self-appraisals in schools. CogniFit educational technology and platform, based on neuro-education, is one of the most popular and used computer-based program in educational neuroscience. It has been applied in different schools around the world with high effectiveness for all students, especially for students with special needs or learning disabilities.

Self-appraisal: CogniFit neuro-education evaluation

This scientific resource, designed to optimize self-appraisal and educational processes, has been created for educators and has proven to be quite effective in exploring cognitive processes involved in learning.

This CogniFit tool evaluates different cognitive areas that can help teachers, parents, and students know themselves better and identify certain neurological causes related to school failure.

Through this tool, CogniFit, develops personalized cognitive training and rehabilitation for children so that they can improve their cognitive abilities such as attention, memory, planning and others that are fundamental for learning and performance in different subjects.

How does it work? This tool is easy to use, the first is for students to develop a baseline by completing the full cognitive evaluation. This self-evaluation and its report will determine with precision which cognitive areas are strong and which require training. All of the brain games developed by CogniFit have been designed and validated clinically in order to identify cognitive strengths and weaknesses involved in learning.

Also, using the results of this initial evaluation, CogniFit program, designs and programs specific training for each child according to their needs.

School failure is one of the biggest concerns in the educational system. Therefore it is of importance to teach about brain knowledge in education.  For students to develop full learning skills it’s important for schools to have neuro-educative tools at their disposal.

Self-Appraisal at work

Self-assessment at the workplace should become a habit for most of us. Some companies ask their employees that they self-evaluate periodically while others just expect the initiative to come from themselves.

When faced with a promotion or discovering that we are not being efficient, it’s crucial to reflect on our strengths and weaknesses in order to maximize our capacities and correct our mistakes. To elaborate a previously reasonable diagnosis is the first step to problem resolution.

Moreover, self-appraisal is not the only thing necessary when evaluating our performance. If the analysis of our self-evaluation is correct, we can even manage to increment our motivation, self-efficacy, and self-control. Sometimes we are stuck in our ways and can’t see a different way of doing things, making it difficult to leave our comfort zone. However, asking ourselves if we are responsible, on time, team players, organized or have other qualities that are relevant for our job might help us find other opportunities. Stopping to examine our work situation in a holistic and unbiased way may open the doors to improving our performance, work relationship, correcting mistakes, etc.

Self-Appraisal in health

There are signs and symptoms relative to our mental and physical health that we can observe in our bodies. Checking our body for these signs is important when detecting or discarding any diseases. Negative thoughts and self-evaluations can cause acne or other skin problems. Nonetheless, if after a self-appraisal we notice something unusual it’s important not to rush into conclusions without consulting with a physician or other professionals capable of professionally making a diagnosis. Currently, there are several online cognitive assessments, that help us measure our cognitive abilities and understand brain areas and brain functions.

Self-evaluation in everyday life

It’s common for people to question their acts and thoughts. Have I offended him with my words? Is this outfit fit for an interview? It’s normal, healthy and acceptable to reflect on our day to day actions (unless we are being irrational or too hard on ourselves).

In this case, we don’t have specific parameters from which to make a self-evaluation. Everyone is free to choose what are their aspirations and goals. Our well-being depends mainly on who we want to be and what aspects we consider relevant. Therefore, our self-appraisals will differ from person to person.

There are no reliable, valid or fair guides about what models should we follow when doing a self-assessment, however, we must not let subjectiveness lead the way. Aspects such as our social relationships, how much time we dedicate to what makes us happy if we behave according to our values and other aspects of our personal life should be reviewed periodically in order to develop our personal growth.

Self-Appraisal: Examples

With these examples, you will be able to apply these different self-appraisal methods to the areas you consider most important. The most crucial thing to keep in mind is that you must feel comfortable with the method and it should adapt to your goals.

  • Book: textbooks usually have different chapters which end with a review section where they invite readers to critically think about aspects in the chapter and sometimes even include mini assessments or tests. This is a self-appraisal that allows checking how much knowledge we retained of the subject at hand.
  • Digital resources: Web pages and apps that enable us to evaluate our knowledge are in constant growth. Online self-appraisals or self-evaluations give immediate answers to different questions and are accessible at any moment in time. Unfortunately, they are limited to closed answers and don’t leave much space for creative answers. For example, we can download tests on a specific topic in Biology or on our knowledge of emotions.
  • Self-appraisal sheet: We can write how we think we did in a specific activity, the areas that need improvement, our strengths, how much progress have we made since our last self-appraisal, etc. We may find a document that already includes the questions we need or custom make it fit your needs. In order to create your own, it’s paramount to think about relevant things (for example, Am I nice to strangers), order and rate them accordingly.

Regardless of the format, the fundamental aspect is that we know how to interpret our results and continue practicing motivated. Any resource that helps us learn, maintain information and retain content will contribute to further skill building in any field.

Self-Appraisal: Benefits

Self-evaluations have many benefits, that combined with other strategies are a fantastic tool.

  • They are fit for any age: From preschoolers to older adults can benefit from this tool and learn to be critical about themselves (in a healthy way). In each stage in life we have interests and different missions, therefore, we have to self-evaluate ourselves in different spheres. No matter the case, a self-assessment is always going to be helpful.
  • They grant us to know our level in a specific task: Sometimes we think we have tried everything in order to reach our goals. We have been polite to our neighbors, we have read loads of information on leadership, etc. However, we might not be adapting how we should to the different circumstances. If the self-appraisal is done correctly, it is easier for us to tackle our goals with a more realistic approach.
  • Useful way to practice: Self-appraisal facilitates knowledge and abilities in a flexible and practical way that we can adapt to our needs. They are a perfect addition to activities we decide to do, regardless of the activity itself.
  • Reinforces knowledge: When taking a moment to establish new goals, we usually review the subjects we studied or focus on a specific aspect of our life. When performing a self-evaluation we tend to make connections between ideas, enabling for them to be retained in our long-term memory.
  • Helps us get to know ourselves better: Self-appraisal stimulates self-examination. It not only allows us to dive in our general knowledge but also leads us to question personal aspects of ourselves regardless of the purpose of the self-evaluation. For example, the things we most question are our sense of responsibility, virtues, defects, etc.
  • Encourages independence: self-appraisal is a habit we should incorporate in our lives since it permits us to control our progress and deficits and helps us be more responsible and independent when dealing with tasks.
  • Increases our motivation: Receiving feedback can motivate us to continue working hard. Knowing our deficiencies and still being able to get good results is a good incentive to continue. Are you up for a self-appraisal?

Self-Appraisal: Tips to improve learning

Do self-evaluation relaxed

If you are tired, stressed or for some reason can’t concentrate in the self-appraisal, it’s better to postpone it. If you carry on in that state, your performance will decrease and your results won’t be representative.

Be realistic

Only by performing a self-assessment we won’t progress, we need to establish a specific goal. For example: improve our memory.

Be honest with yourself

It’s tempting to perform a self-appraisal guided by a book that contains answers or have a friend help us answer, or search the internet for the best option, etc. However, this is just a way to cheat ourselves. If we want to take advantage of this tool, we have to be as truthful as possible.

See failure as a good thing

It’s normal to fail and our self-appraisals will not be what we expected. Don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s important to recognize our mistakes but also our merits. It’s important to know the weight of our criticism on ourselves. Pessimism will only come back as negative performance.

Be organized

If you want to progress it’s important to be systematic in your actions and never stop challenging yourself. If meditating these aspects is difficult, set a time and place for self-appraisal, it doesn’t take much time and the benefits are worth it.

Test different types of self-appraisal

You might not like a multiple choice test but rather short essay questions where you can write about your opinions and knowledge. It’s ok to try different methods and you can even combine as many as you like in order to achieve a broader perspective.

Take advantage of new technologies

Recently, neuro-education is booming. Thanks to new advances in this field and in different technologies, life is changing rapidly and many resources are being created to increase the quality of life. Each day we have more information on how our brain works.

CogniFit is a leading company in cognitive evaluation and cognitive stimulation. It’s mainly for professional researchers and doctors. However, anyone can have access to its online platform. Through different and fun brain games it makes it possible to detect and train cognitive areas that need a bit more exercise.

 

Thank you for reading. Have you ever performed a self-appraisal? Do you think it’s a good tool? What strategies do you use? Please feel free to comment below.

 

This article is originally in Spanish by Ainhoa Arranz Aldana, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

15 Ways to Train Your Brain Before School Starts

Summer is coming to a close soon for many of us. Going back to school can be exciting for those of us who love to work our minds to the fullest every single day. However, the majority of us tend to suffer from “Summer Brain Drain,” where our brains become lazy due to severe learning loss after the school year finishes. This feeling of inner lethargy overtakes most of us as we spend our vacation months in full relaxation mode. If you feel you have suffered from the pains of summer brain drain for the past few months, then don’t worry! There’s still plenty of time to train your brain before school starts so that we can enter into the new school year with a productive attitude and a strong brain ready for success!

1. How long is the normal summer vacation?
  • In the US, most schools have a 3 month summer vacation

2. How long does it take students to forget almost all of the information they've learned?
  • We start forgetting information as soon as 1 day after learning new information, but after 30 days we only remember about 2-3% of what we've learned!

3. When students return back to school after summer vacation, how long does it take them (on average) to re-learn all the material they were taught the previous school year?
  • According to Dr. Harris Cooper, a psychology professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia, students lose about 1-3 months of learning during summer break. This means that teachers must invest at least 4-6 weeks in order to re-teach past material that students should already know coming into the new school year. Therefore, if students return to school at the beginning of September, they might be spending all their school days re-learning old material until Halloween.

4. Which of the following activities DOESN'T keep your brain sharp?
  • Watching TV is a passive activity and requires very little work on our brain's part. Do something that makes your brain work!

5. Is sleep good or bad for our memory?
  • Sleep is always good, as long as it's restorative and not out of boredom. Our bodies need sleep to help us integrate all of the new information we've learned!

One great point to note is that anyone can strengthen his or her brain power at any age! Many people have the misconception that only adolescents and adults in their 20s to 30s have the potential to increase their brain stamina, but this is not true. Due to neuroplasticity, where the brain gradually forms new neural pathways and reacts to changing circumstances, our brains have the ability to adapt to any situation, even in old age.

Neuroplasticity is what will guide our brains to reach its ultimate manpower. Once you build positive learning habits and regularly engage in beneficial activities for your brain, the neurons in your brain will increase and the pre-existing ones will be strengthened even more than before. This will help you to improve in your cognitive abilities, enhance your learning potential, and widen your field of memory.

Here are 15 Tips to Train Your Brain Before School Starts:

1. Exercise

Probably one of the most important ways to keep your brain in tip-top shape is to exercise! Working out your body will increase the levels of oxygen flowing to your brain and will reduce your risk for disorders that lead to memory loss, like Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. It can even prevent diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Usually, for patients suffering from many physical and mental illnesses, their first suggestion for wellness is to exercise. Even if you’re not really into cardio or heavy-weight training, a simple 30-minute jog will do just the trick!

Exercising regularly enhances the release of special neurotransmitters called endorphins. These include dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which contribute to your overall mood and reduce your stress and anxiety levels.

Also, exercise contributes to neuroplasticity by boosting growth factors and stimulating new interneuron connections.

2. Read

If you want to improve your brain functioning on multiple levels, then you should read more in your spare time. Whether it be from fictional novels to real-life narratives to articles in your favorite magazine, reading is one of the best ways to strengthen the higher-order thinking processes of your brain. Plus, reading allows you to become more creative in your thoughts, your actions, and your conversations with others!

In a study performed at Emory University titled, “Short and Long-Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain,” researchers found that becoming immersed in a fictional novel enhances connections of neurons in the brain and improves overall brain function. Also, they found that reading fiction was found to strengthen a reader’s ability to put himself in another person’s shoes, empathize, and imagine in a way similar to actual visualization (meaning, the readers were able to imagine the stories read as though they were actual movies being watched).

To find out more about how reading enhances brain functioning, check out this article: “Reading Fiction Improves Brain Connectivity and Functioning,” by Christopher Bergland.

3. Learn a new language

It doesn’t matter how old you are. It is never too late to diversify your tongue with a new language! In a study led by Dr. Thomas Bak at Edinburgh’s School of Philosophy, Psychology, and Language Sciences, he found that young adults proficient in a second language performed significantly better on attention and concentration tests than their counterparts who only knew one language, irrespective of whether they had learned that language during infancy, childhood, or adolescence.

If you feel it might be difficult to learn a new language, then there are plenty of easy resources available today. Programs like Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, Mondly by ATi Studios and more offer apps that can be downloaded on your smartphone so you can gradually work your way into different languages. You can tune-in to videos on the Internet with instructors who specialize in various languages. Also, foreign films are great to watch if you really want to pick up a second language like a pro! Try watching a foreign film with the subtitles on once or twice, then watch it again a few times without the subtitles and see how many phrases and expressions you understand.

4. Old-Fashioned Puzzles

If you want to increase your cognitive abilities, then regular puzzles are great! They train your brain so that you become better in problem-solving skills and recognition of minor details. To get working, you should try your hand at jigsaw puzzles, Sudoku, crossword puzzles, word searches, and even games of “Where’s Waldo?”

5. Get involved in a brain training program

Many companies today have developed amazing resources for you to use to boost your brain power. To cater to your convenience, CogniFit brain games offers personalized brain training programs that will target your specific cognitive needs. They also have programs available to help with some learning disorders that may affect your little ones!

6. Challenge your learning capabilities!

Find a subject you are really interested in or a topic that you want to learn more about. Immerse yourself fully into the subject by utilizing all the free assets available at your fingertip. If you register with Coursera.org, they provide many college-level courses that you can follow in a variety of fields, either free of charge or for a small fee. You can follow special channels on social media pages like Crash Course or TedEd to gain plenty of useful knowledge. Also, subscribe to magazines and online newspapers that specialize in your favorite fields, like Psychology Today, Live Science, The New Yorker, and more.

7. Find an artsy way to express yourself

Dig deep down into your inner feelings and look for a means of bringing out your unique soul. Try a hand at drawing, painting, poetry, writing short stories/prose/spoken word, or just vent away in a journal! It will help to boost your creativity levels and diversify your brain wave patterns

8. Visit as many museums and live performances as you can

Museums and exhibits increase our exposure to different forms of art, innovative ideas, and great skills of fellow human beings. Do some research on local museums and try to devote a few hours in your free time to see what is available. Whether it be from fine art to photography, anatomy, feelings, or poetry, there are so many sites to visit. Museums, spoken word café nights, operas, or even high school orchestras are great to awaken the mind and get your creative juices flowing.

9. Recreational outdoor activities

Work your body in ways you have never done before. Become more in-tuned with nature or just try new activities. This will stimulate neuroplasticity in your brain so that you can adapt to new environments and enjoy yourself in the process. Try hiking, rafting, canoeing, rock-climbing, skiing, jet-surfing, and any other fun activity you can think of!

10. Memorize

One of the best ways to increase your brain’s potential is to learn how to memorize. Whether it be from a religious text, any special author’s quotes, song lyrics, poetry verses, you name it, try to memorize. That way, you will gain experience in what methods are best for you in retaining information. Some practical ways of memorizing particular statements, concepts, or ideas are:

a. Rote rehearsal

This involves repeating a phrase over and over again till you can recite it fluently without the help of others

b. Writing

Some people learn better when they copy information over repetitively!

c. Mnemonic devices

Come up with acronyms, cool and catchy phrases, or special tricks to try to remember special material

11. Take on a new hobby/learn a new skill

Challenge your brain so that it really works its neuroplasticity features by doing something that you either have never done before or you’re not so great at. Some suggestions are cooking, baking, gardening, sewing, weight-lifting, getting involved in a sport, writing, drawing, and more. The list is endless!

12. Eat healthy

Of course, your diet impacts the way your body functions, especially your brain! The right foods will impact how much energy you have and how much command your brain has over you. Eating a diet full of healthy nutrients such as those rich in greens, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds can support mental acuity and alertness.

Certain foods have shown to increase brain strength. For example, foods filled with Omega-3 Fatty Acids like salmon can improve brain function by increasing activity in your prefrontal cortex (which is associated with your working memory).

13. Get enough sleep

Sleep is extremely important to maintain a strong brain. Research suggests that the average adult needs 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep in order to avoid sleep deprivation. If this amount is not reached, then creativity, problem-solving abilities, and critical thinking skills are all compromised!

Studies have shown that even missing one night of sleep will increase the concentration of NSE and S-100B in the blood. These are biomarkers that are released as an alert signal that your brain is in an injurious condition and cannot function properly. When the blood is consumed with these substances, then this means that a severe amount of brain tissue has deteriorated.

14. Spend time with loved ones

Humans are social beings. We thrive on the relationships we have because they keep us well-grounded and motivated to be productive. Research shows that having meaningful friendships and a strong support system are vital to brain health. Studies from the Harvard School of Public Health found that senior citizens with the most social lives had the slowest rate of memory decline.

15. Be happy!

In our fast-paced society, one key factor that many of us forget to take care of is our emotional health. Stress, anger, worry, and anxiety are the brain’s worst enemies, yet many of us fail to realize that. Over time, chronic stress and anxiety destroys brain cells and damages the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain involved with forming new memories and retrieving old ones. To prevent stress from conquering your life, let go of all the major stressors in your life and just be happy! Positive and humanistic psychologists emphasize keeping an uplifting spirit as a way to reach one’s full potential (This was mainly emphasized in the works of Carl Rogers). If you want to stay happy and content with your lifestyle, then smile and laugh more. This will increase your levels of oxytocin secreted, which contributes to your overall feeling of satisfaction. Spend time with fun, carefree, and interesting people. Surround yourself with positive reminders to help lighten up your difficult days. Keep a list of all the things you are thankful for and don’t sweat the small things!

Sources: Source 1, Source 2, CogniFit

Research report explores the cognitive assessment and training market that will be worth 7.5 billion USD by 2020 – WhaTech

the cognitive assessment and training market that will be worth 7.5 billion USD by 2020

The report Cognitive Assessment and Training Market by Assessment Type (Pen & Paper Based, Hosted, Biometrics), Service, Application (Clinical Trials, Classroom Learning, Brain Training, Corporate Learning, Academic Research), Vertical and Region – Global Forecast to 2020” by MarketsandMarkets talks about the importance and popularization of cognitive assessment and training tools. These assessments are finding their way in to different markets little by little, such as “dementia screening, clinical trials, academic research, corporate and classroom learning, self-assessment, and brain training. Cognitive assessments can be used in a number of ways and are expected to increase in popularity in the coming years.

Cognitive assessment programs such as CogniFit expect a huge growth in the next five years as it will become a more and more recognized tool to evaluate and train one’s cognitive ability. MarketandMarkets predicts that the cognitive assessment and training market will grow to 7.5 Billion USD by 2020.

See the full article here.

Solving the Brain Fitness Puzzle Is the Key to Self-Empowered Aging | SharpBrains

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Solving the Brain Fitness Puzzle Is the Key to Self-Empowered Aging | SharpBrains

5 Must-Have Features for Your Brain Training Program

5 Must-Have Features for Your Brain Training Program

New Year’s Day is a sacred self-proclaimed starting date for healthier habits. And this year, you have decided your brain health matters. Brain health drives our ability to concentrate, problem-solve, and be creative. It is an important, but often overlooked, component of success. The brain fitness industry is a fast growing business, and new brain training programs appear every day, either online or on smartphones. They claim to improve your brain health, but how many of them really work?

Here are 5 features you should consider before purchasing your next brain training program:

1. Scientifically validated – Although there are many brain training programs available, very few actually have research to back up their claims. Most brain games companies claim that their games are “based on science”, which is a very elusive and misleading marketing term. You should always check that the app has a solid scientific validation and has been validated in peer-reviewed scientific research.

2. Capture your unique cognitive profile – Research shows that to provide you with an effective brain fitness program, the brain training regimen needs to be personalized to match your unique cognitive needs. Unlike physical activity, you cannot discern on your own what you want to improve. Consequently, your brain fitness program must start with a baseline assessment of your unique cognitive profile before your training even begins. Training without a prior assessment is ineffective.

3. Personalize your training regimen – Using your assessment and your ongoing performance, the program should be designed to build the optimal brain training regimen that matches your unique cognitive needs. Some programs lacking assessments claim they are “personalized”, but this generally refers to the fact that your training sessions will include your most highly rated games. Such “personalization” is not effective because people tend to highly rate games that are easy for them, so they naturally avoid the most challenging brain games.

4. Adapt the regimen to your goals – Some programs will allow you to choose your level of difficulty level as you go. However, you will have much better results if you use a brain-training program that comes with an independent and objective assessment of your performance level which indicates that you are ready for more challenging tasks.

5. Provide a comprehensive workout – Since you need your brain training program to tell you what skills need to be improved, make sure the brain fitness program includes a wide range of cognitive skills that you use daily such as memory, attention, perception, and coordination.

Brain-Training Companies Get Advice From Some Academics, Criticism From Others

Brain-Training Companies Get Advice From Some Academics, Criticism From Others

Prominent researchers have raised ethical concerns about university scientists’ work for the companies. But some of those scientists reject the criticism as too broad. The Chronicle discloses helpful information you should know when you choose a brain training program

The topic of brain training and its effectiveness has been a question for years. As a new part of the health field, many people are skeptical of its claims and wonder if it really can do what it says.

There are really two sides to this debate. Some researchers, doctors, psychologists, neurologists, etc. claim that it many brain training companies do not have the scientific evidence that they need in order to make the claims that they do. Many professors have refused to take part in the research, and others have signed a document asking for the scientific proof that these activities work.

One professor, Adam Gazzaley is cited on one of the research materials, his name marked with an asterisk. This asterisk shows that there is a conflict of interest, as he is a paid consultant for a company that helped found one of these brain training programs.

Many people do not believe that these companies are deceitful or disingenuous, but when it comes to a question of clients’ money, caution must be taken in order to ensure that they are not being taken advantage of. It is important that the client understand the claims that the company is making, and the fine line between “scientifically based”, and “scientifically validated”.

The latter of these, scientifically based brain training programs, have the scientific research to support their claims and are transparent with their research. CogniFit, a company with 15 years of experience in the brain training field, is one of these companies that has real scientific validation. Tommy Sagroun, CEO of CogniFit, says “[‘based on science’ is] simply a marketing term that is very misleading. It’s not hard to ‘base things on science’”.

Even then, there are some people who say that training with brain training games does not actually help cognition. One user used a brain training program for 9 months and took a 7 month break. When he went back to use the games, he noticed that his scores for all of the games had fallen, proving to him that the games were not effective.

For the full article, click here.

Train your brain to eat healthy

Train your brain to eat healthy

Sticking to healthy eating would probably be a lot easier if the healthy options tasted as good as other unhealthy options. Ah, if only kale could taste like Nutella! (at least Nutella contains nuts which are good brain food). Well, new research says you might be able to train your brain to eventually eat the healthy foods you don’t like.

The pilot study published in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes on Monday September 3rd, 2014 suggests the brain can be trained to prefer healthy food over unhealthy high-calorie foods, using a diet which does not leave people hungry.

“We don’t start out in life loving french fries and hating, for example, whole wheat pasta,” senior author Susan Roberts, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Energy Metabolism Laboratory, said in a statement. “This conditioning happens over time in response to eating – repeatedly – what is out there in the toxic food environment.”

Scientists know that once people are addicted to unhealthy foods, it is usually very hard to change their eating habits and get them to lose weight. Previous studies have shown that high-calorie, fatty, sugary foods trigger the pleasure center of the brain. That’s why you naturally crave these unhealthy foods: You expect to be rewarded with dopamine for eating them.

In the small pilot, researchers studied the one of the brain parts linked to reward and addiction in 13 overweight and obese men and women, eight of whom were taking part in a specially designed weight-loss program. Those in the intervention group took part in a version of the I Diet, which involved portion control, an emphasis on low-glycemic foods, and 19 support meetings delivered over 24 weeks. Participants in this group also received individualized emails from their nutritionists for support. Control participants eventually got the I Diet intervention as well, but were waitlisted for six months while this study took place.

All participants also got a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scan before and after the six months were up. While in the machine, they were shown 40 food and 40 non-food control-image cues. The food cues, such as sandwiches and french fries, included both high- and low-calorie options. The non-food cues were images that looked similar to the food cues — but were quite not food (e.g. a wallet, or pencils).

The researchers focused their scans on each participant’s striatum, an area that’s often associated with the brain’s dopamine-rich reward processes. They found significantly higher average amounts of activation in this area for the low-calorie food images than high-calorie foods, but only in participants who had already been through the I Diet program. The control participants showed the opposite: more activation in the striatum for high-calorie foods. This suggests that changing what we eat eventually changes what we crave.

The Boston researchers say that gastric bypass surgery, while solving the problem of weight loss, can take away food enjoyment rather than make healthier foods more appealing.

“There is much more research to be done here, involving many more participants, long-term follow-up and investigating more areas of the brain,” Prof Roberts said.  “But we are very encouraged that the weight-loss program appears to change what foods are tempting to people.“

Olympic athletes’ brain training secrets

Olympic athletes’ brain training secrets

The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics are almost done and you wonder how these elite athletes prepare themselves? Obviously, they spend several years in preparing themselves on different levels: physical, technical, and tactical training. But behind these impressive skills is an arguably even more remarkable mental prowess cultivated through years of training the mind to tune out distractions, reduce stress and anxiety and build the focus and stamina athletes need to achieve optimal performance.

It is often said that sports are 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical. Bruce Jenner is a CogniFit believer and a former Olympic gold medal-winning decathlon runner, who once said, “You have to train your mind like you train your body”.

Many Olympic athletes routinely use visualization techniques as part of their training to cultivate not only a competitive edge, but also to create renewed mental awareness, a heightened sense of well-being and confidence. Athletes use visualization techniques to ‘intend’ an outcome of a race or training session, or simply to rest in a relaxed feeling of calm and well-being. By imagining a scene, complete with images of a previous best performance or a future desired outcome, athletes are instructed to simply ‘step into’ that feeling. While imagining these scenarios, athletes should try to imagine the detail and the way it feels to perform in the desired way. With mental rehearsal, minds and bodies become trained to actually perform the skill imagined.

It is a known fact that Olympic athletes cannot win when they are mentally defeated. Athletes who do not have their head on straight can rarely perform in a manner that will prove successful. As such, some athletes add meditation into their sports training to clear their mind. It is simply a process used to train the mind in a manner no different than one would train the body. When the body is strong, it can perform well. The mind is no different. Russian and Bulgarian athletes initiated the concept of neurogenic conditioning – nervous system conditioning – to improve their performance in athletic events. It definitely worked for them as their results indicate. Other athletes the world over began to employ such tactics.

Olympic athletes also use positive psychology methods to consistently achieve optimal performance or as they like to say “be in the zone”. Positive psychology is a branch of psychology whose purpose was summed up in 1998 by Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: “We believe that a psychology of positive human functioning will arise, which achieves a scientific understanding and effective interventions to build thriving individuals, families, and communities”. Positive psychology is primarily concerned with using the psychological theory, research and intervention techniques to understand the positive, adaptive, creative and emotionally fulfilling aspects of human behavior. Elite athletes are able to differentiate themselves from their competition, based upon the psychological skills they hold, develop, and are able to apply effectively. Athletes must strive for performance excellence and personal excellence as well, with a positive mindset identified as making a vital 1% difference to performance.

You don’t have to be vying for a gold medal to benefit from training your brain. Try CogniFit’s specific brain training program for sports today!

Choose the playing level of your brain exercises.

Choose the playing level of your brain exercises.

Following a large amount of requests, we are happy to announce today that you can choose to play at different levels directly from the instructions screen of any of the CogniFit brain games.

This option will appear only in the play mode and will not impact your training results. Your training difficulty will always be automatically adjusted to your current cognitive level but if you want to try for fun to see the different brain exercises at different levels, you can now do it!

This option is particularly useful when you want to challenge someone. By choosing the best level of challenge for you, you can make sure that the playing field is be ideal for you!

Enjoy your brain training and check today how you perform at different levels. Some of them are particularly challenging!

How sleep can help you clean your brain

How sleep can help you clean your brain.

A new study from the University of Rochester and published in Science found that brain cells of mice actually shrink while they are sleeping. This reduction in the size of the brain cells creates up to 60% percent more space between them, allowing the cerebral spinal fluid to flow up to 10 times faster in the brain than when compared to active daytime.

The cerebral spinal fluid is a clear and colorless fluid found in the spine and the brain. The fluid serves as a vital function in cerebral blood flow and cerebral autoregulation.

The researchers found out that due to this increase in cerebral spinal fluid flow, the brain actually flushes out toxins and other molecular detritus. They define and compare this process of the brain as a “biological dishwasher”.

If you want to keep your brain healthy in the long run, make sure to sleep sufficiently and to continue your brain training exercises on a weekly basis. Remember also that sleep helps you consolidate your precious memory!

Too much sleep might lead to faster decline in brain function

Too much sleep might lead to faster decline in brain function.

A new study conducted by researchers from Columbia and the University Hospital of Madrid has found that people in their 60s and 70s who slept in average more than 9 hours a day showed a faster cognitive decline than people who slept less (6 to 8 hours a day).

Faster cognitive decline can lead to weaker cognitive abilities such as memory, concentration or attention and over time be an important risk factor to dementia.

Obviously, it is possible that people who were sleeping more during the study had already some cognitive issues which would explain those pre-existing sleeping patterns. In any case, sleeping too much or sleeping too little is not good for your brain health and cognitive development as an adult.

To keep your brain sharp, make sure to have a normal amount of sleep of 6 to 8 hours per night and start brain training regularly!

How sharp is your team?

How sharp is your team?

Most of us spend an important part of our time at work. A good and pleasant working environment is an essential element towards happiness and vibrant mental health. We need to feel respected, productive and ideally work on something that matters to us.

In the last decades, a lot of research has been focused on how to improve work conditions, finding the right balance between work and leisure and to make the workplace a more productive environment.

We know today that money is often not the first motivator for people to work and be productive. Working conditions, training on the job and culture are all important elements that help people be more productive.

Still, one aspect of productivity which is often disregarded is cognition and the level of an individual’s cognitive skills. Cognitive abilities such as memory, focus and concentration are key components to one’s productivity.

Cognitive abilities are not fixed and naturally change over time (they usually decline as we age). Based on the latest research on brain plasticity, we understand today how to assess those cognitive skills and how to train them. Keeping our brain sharp is increasingly important as we evolve and face new challenges and opportunities in our workplace and daily life.

It is also useful to be able to assess the cognitive level of a large number of people within an organization and provide them with the right training. We are unique and each of us shows a different set of cognitive strengths and weaknesses. It is therefore important to use a program that can individually assess you and give you a personalized training based on your needs which may be different from those of your colleagues.

The new CogniFit Professional platform offers an intuitive tool designed to that end. It allows organizations to assess, track and train their employees and help them improve their cognitive skills thanks to specific brain training programs. Each individual can easily access the cognitive assessments and training regimens online.

Improving your cognitive skills and the ones of your colleagues will benefit the entire organization as everybody could become more productive. It will be easier for employees to remember what needs to be done, to focus for longer periods of time or to be able to shift from one task to another. CogniFit trains a large number of cognitive skills to ensure that this brain training is complete and useful.

Independent workers can also access the benefits of brain training by accessing the CogniFit brain training platform for individuals.

So why not start now? Let your co-workers start their personalized assessment, help them train those important cognitive skills with the new CogniFit Professional online platform today and see how sharp your team can be!