Lumosity “Reclaim your brain”…..Games interesting…..
After starting Lumosity, I find that I am more alert and am more able to acquire new skills.”
Brain Training Research
Doctors and scientists have studied the human brain for hundreds of years, marveling at its ability to acquire new knowledge and mental associations late into life. Throughout much of the twentieth-century, the scientific community believed that this learning happened by changing the strength of different neural connections. This idea stemmed from the belief that the structure and organization of the brain did not change much after childhood.
Over the last few decades, however, researchers have discovered that the brain can fundamentally reorganize itself when confronted with new challenges, and that this reorganization can occur regardless of one’s age. Evidence suggests that the brain, when given the right kind of exercise, can actually reshape itself to become more efficient and effective. This ability, known by scientists as “neuroplasticity,” has far-reaching consequences we’re only now beginning to understand. With the help of emerging technologies, researchers are continuously discovering new ways for leveraging neuroplasticity to improve the brain’s health and performance.
In order to drive a cab around the serpentine urban streets of London, one must first pass a rigorous exam testing knowledge of point-to-point routes through the city. These routes are referred to as The Knowledge, and would-be taxi drivers spend months “on The Knowledge,” studying the map of London in hopes of passing the exam. In 2000, researchers at University College London published an intriguing brain imaging study involving these individuals (Maguire, et al., 2000). They sought to discover what happens to the brains of taxi drivers as they go on The Knowledge. If the brain were a relatively static receptacle, passively absorbing information, then researchers would have expected to see few, if any, major structural changes in the brain. What they saw was dramatic and surprising. Researchers observed differences in the size and shape of crucial brain structures in taxi drivers relative to control subjects. In particular, a part of the hippocampus, a brain structure critically involved in memory and navigation, was larger in those who were on The Knowledge compared to those who were not. In subsequent analyses, the research team showed that these changes were related to the amount of time drivers spent on the knowledge. This was an early look into the brain’s incredible ability to adapt to meet the demands placed on it, and to respond with increased capacity for tasks that exercise it.
Throughout the past decade, researchers have observed similar structural and functional brain changes associated with specific task demands. For example, medical students studying for exams undergo brain changes similar to those observed in the London taxicab study (Draganski, et al., 2006). Learning to juggle results in functional changes in brain areas associated with visual processing, at least temporarily (Draganski, et al., 2004). And Green and Bavelier 2003 showed that video game players performed better in measures of visual attention than non-players. What’s more, when they asked non-players to play an action video game intensively over a period of several weeks, those individuals’ visual attention capacities improved to look more like the gamers’.
These studies and other demonstrate just the tip of the neuroplasticity iceberg.
Brain Training Can Improve Intellectual Capacity
Research has shown that brains can be improved through training programs that target specific cognitive functions such as working memory, processing speed and fluid intelligence. Interactive multimedia software technology (like that used in video games) represents a highly effective and clinically proven method for delivering these brain training programs. These technologies can present users with specific cognitive tasks in a form that is intensive, repeatable, adaptive and highly targeted. This advance in technology, combined with a new appreciation of neuroplasticity, has led to an explosion of interest in computer-based brain training. Researchers have found that well-designed brain training technologies can achieve positive results for individuals of all ages.
For example, scientists at the University of Michigan recently examined the effects of the Dual N-Back, a challenging working memory and divided attention task on fluid intelligence performance in young adults (Jaeggi, et al., 2008). Fluid intelligence is the ability to creatively solve new problems, and it is measured as part of standard IQ tests. Conventional wisdom in psychology had said that intelligence is relatively fixed, without much potential for improvement. Yet participants who completed the Dual N-Back training showed statistically significant improvements in their fluid intelligence and working memory as compared to the control group. This research shattered the view that intelligence could not be changed in adults, and showed the potential for brain training to help even those who are already near the peak of cognitive performance.
Similar research has explored the degree to which brain training can combat the cognitive decline associated with the normal course of aging. The Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) study was a large, randomized, controlled trial testing the effects of three kinds of cognitive training (Ball, et al., 2002). The 2832 participants underwent approximately 10 one-hour sessions of training over about six weeks. This NIH-funded trial has produced a number of interesting results. Unsurprisingly, participants in all groups learned to perform the training tasks more efficiently. What was more impressive was that the effects of the training transferred to measures of real-world function. These functional benefits were observed five years after training was completed, indicating that the benefits were sustained for a substantial period of time (Willis, et al., 2006). The ACTIVE study demonstrates that cognitive training can have highly beneficial real-world benefits for seniors.
The evidence that “brain training works” is now sufficiently robust and compelling that it would be difficult for an objective, dispassionate observer to claim that there is no evidence that “brain training works.” That said, this is not the end of the story, but rather the beginning. Researchers still have much more to learn about how to apply and optimize this training for each individual’s unique goals. At Lumos Labs, we have created a research platform that allows us to facilitate the exploration of these issues in collaboration with the top researchers and institutions around the globe.