Information and discussion of the latest findings in neuroscience, specifically those regarding the science of neuroplasticity.

neuroscience & neuroplasticity

amazing insight into the human mind

this is definitely one of the coolest stories have come across in a while. Not only is it really emotional, it also provides a rare look into the mind of someone experiencing the world in a totally different way than you and I are. it also seems to be a really great example of the power of brain training as the dedication of this family turned out what would have seemed to be an impossibility. watching this video definitely leaves me just fascinated with the human mind.

neuroscience & neuroplasticity

Brain Training Aids Cognition in Schizophrenia Patients

Check out this interesting article from psychiatry online about a paper presented at a recent neuroscience convention demonstrating that brain games aimed at training patients in specific mental tasks can affect multiple interacting brain systems, resulting in changes in systemic cognitive function. the study is important and that it illustrates the potential for brain training on specific tasks to generalize to more broad cognitive skills, which in many cases is not begin spring training – that it only improves users in very specific ways but does not translate to general cognition.

the study is also noteworthy with respect to the fact that it deals with schizophrenia which historically is not a disease people would think to treat with brain training, so it will be interesting to see down the road if further research is done in this area and what other applications may arise from this sort of approach.

neuroscience & neuroplasticity

brain training to stop depression

play with your mindA recent study indicates that it may be possible to ward off depression through the practice of brain training and the use of mind games. the researchers had subjects (Young women with depressed mothers) perform simple mental tasks designed to “rewire” their brains and unlearn negative bias they may have picked up during their upbringing. In the experiment, these girls used a neural feedback display to learn how to control neural activity in brain regions linked to depression. Here is a quote from from the article:

In his pilot study, both kinds of training significantly reduced stress-related responses – for example, increases in heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels – to negative stimuli. These stress responses are a key marker of depression, and they diminished one week after training. The girls in the experimental groups also developed fewer defensive responses to negative faces, such as startled blinking. Control groups showed no such improvement.

neuroscience & neuroplasticity

neuroplasticity and brain injury

neuroplasticty for brain injuriesOn this website I talk a lot about neuroplasticity in the context of brain fitness and brain training. I describe it often as a process which can be consciously harnessed and used to better ourselves. I sometimes also speak of an unconscious process that goes on behind the scenes in which we are constantly shaping our minds through our thoughts and experiences. However, I rarely mention the most demonstrative and well publicized role of neuroplasticity, its role in healing/recovery from brain trauma. Not long ago victims of strokes and other traumatic brain injuries were considered lost causes. But these days, it seems like there are few limits to what the brain can recover if left with enough healthy tissue and connections. Whole regions of the brain that were destroyed can be reassigned to other areas over time through the magic of neuroplasticity. These things take time and effort, but amazing recoveries are becoming more and more commonplace.

I bring this all up because I just read an article on the role of neuroplasticity in the case of Rep Gabrielle Giffords and her gunshot wound to the head. It goes through different areas that may have experienced damage and explains the prognosis for recovery in each case. Poor woman has a long road ahead of her but as the article points out she has a lot going for her.

neuroscience & neuroplasticity

Tetris vs. PTSD

mind gameI stumbled across a study just now that suggests that playing tetris after experiencing a traumatic event may reduce the chance of developing post-traumatic-stress-disorder, or at least soften the blow. Sounds a bit crazy, right? Well the idea behind it is that by otherwise employing your visuospatial skills, you effectively disrupt the consolidation of the traumatic memory – in other words, playing tetris distracts your mind from the offending event and makes it less likely that you will encode it in a deep and damaging way. Here is a little excerpt from the researchers:

After leaving the laboratory, participants then kept a daily diary in which they recorded their flashbacks to the trauma film over a period of 1-week. Crucially, we found that participants [who played 10 minutes of Tetris] experienced significantly fewer flashbacks over the week than those [who didn't]. Furthermore, at 1-week, participants returned to the laboratory and participants in the game condition had significantly lower scores on the measure of clinical symptomatology of trauma.

Maybe all that tetris I played when I was younger is what saved me from the perils of being a teenager in suburban America!!?!?

neuroscience & neuroplasticity

left brain vs right brain

I get a lot of question regarding games that specifically exercise the right or left side of your brain. There is a lot of research out there that pinpoints specific areas in your brain that control certain aspects of your mind or body, and in some cases these are isolated to the right or left hemispheres. For sure, you are likely to lose different aspects of cognition from a stroke/injury to one area of the frontal lobe than you would for another. However, I don’t really like to say that specific games are designed to target particular hemispheres of the brain as I believe that many higher cognitive skills require an integration of many different mental systems at once. Not to mention that the brain is plastic….

Nonetheless, there is good science to support that specialization of specific regions of brain tissue. If you’d like to learn more about some of the various mental functions ascribed to the right or left hemispheres, check out this article from CNN called “Left-Brained vs. Right-Brained

neuroscience & neuroplasticity

Brain Science Podcasts

I just came across something called “The Brain Science Podcast”. I haven’t listened to much of it yet, but I very much enjoyed the one episode I listened to, which was an interview with Norman Doidge, author of The Brain that Changes Itself. Check it out:

Episode #26: Norman Doidge
Episode 10: Neuroplasticity
Brain Science Podcast

neuroscience & neuroplasticity

A cautionary yet inspirational tale

A new study coming out of Stanford illuminates the role of stress on the brain and highlights both the danger and power of neuroplasticity. For those who’d rather not hear about the cruel treatment of lab rats, I’ll avoid discussing the details here, but the general gist of it is that a stressed brain tends to reprogram itself and reinfornce the behaviors responsible for the stress. continue reading