Top 5 Dana Stories of 2018? From the Archives

bilingual_cerebrumsept12

From the 2012 Cerebrum essay, “The Cognitive Benefits of Being Bilingual.” Photo: Getty Images

At www.dana.org, we have a deep archive of great stories about the brain and the people who study it, and thanks to the internet, none of it is further than a quick search away. When I checked the list of top stories from last year, I was pleased to see that you-all seem to like to read long stories—nearly all the top-read stories are in the longest format we post. But I was surprised that many of the stories are “classic” (i.e. way more than a few years old). This year we’ll be trying to figure out how to make our more-current stories on the same topics just as popular, but for now here are a few suggestions.

Here are the stories folks found most popular on www.dana.org last year.

1. Wounds That Time Won’t Heal: The Neurobiology of Child Abuse (Cerebrum, 2000)

Developmental neuropsychiatrist Martin H. Teicher describes how scientists are discovering startling connections between abuse of all kinds and both permanent debilitating changes in the brain and psychiatric problems ranging from panic attacks to post-traumatic stress. In these surprising physical consequences of psychological trauma, Teicher sees not only a wake-up call for our society but hope for new treatments. Continue reading

Placebos and Positive Effects in Cognitive Training Studies

Guest Post by Kayt Sukel

cere_110114_article_feat

There are few topics in the neuroscience world that can spark instant debate—but “brain games,” or computer programs or training products that promise to help improve cognitive skills like memory and attention, is definitely one of them. Over the past two years:

It’s likely this debate will continue for some time, especially now that a new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), has demonstrated a strong placebo effect after a brief cognitive training program. Continue reading

Scientific Community Comes Out Against ‘Brain Game’ Marketing

Guest post by science writer Kayt Sukel

A few years ago, I was asked to write an article about the science behind “brain games,” or computer games designed to help improve cognitive function, for a popular magazine. I spoke with a variety of scientists—including those involved with companies that were marketing these games—and also examined the (quite small number) of studies that had been published on brain game efficacy. Taken together, my piece concluded that was that there was no hard and fast evidence, to date, that brain games worked as advertised. Citing the lack of a magic bullet for aging-related cognitive decline, the editor of the magazine killed my story, saying that it felt “too negative.”  The magazine’s readership, she told me, wanted to be able to “do something” about keeping age-related memory and attention problems at bay.

Who wouldn’t? Many brain training companies make bold claims about the games’ effects–suggesting that just a few minutes on the computer each day could slow cognitive decline and keep neurodegeneration at bay. With that kind of messaging, it’s easy to see why the programs have become so popular. Yet, while these supposedly “scientific” claims lack evidentiary basis, few scientists have come out publicly against them.

Continue reading

Can Tetris shape the brain?

While reading “How
to Forget Fear
,” a Times Online article
by Alice Fishburn and science writer Ed Yong, a study on using Tetris to control fear responses caught
my eye.

University of Oxford researcher Emily Holmes asked
people to play the block-arranging game while watching a grisly film full of
surgery and accidents. “She found that while these volunteers remembered just
as many details of the film as those who did not play Tetris, a week later they had fewer flashbacks and were less
affected emotionally by what they had seen,” the article says.

This led Holmes to hypothesize that playing the game “hogs
the brain’s processing power,” preventing the grisly images in the film from
becoming powerful memories. Yong and Fishburn write, “Tetris acts as a mental vaccine that protects against the creation
of strong fear memories and removes their emotional burden.”

Several studies
have found
that multitasking can lead to an inefficient use of brain power, but in this
case it had a positive effect and might have potential clinical applications
for people dealing with traumatic memories and phobias. This echoes the
conclusions of a recent
Cerebrum article
summarizing work
in the area, which argues that video games can have both beneficial and harmful
effects but that more research is needed to fully understand these changes.

Although we have been
covering
the potential influences of various video games on the brain for years, in a
bit of a coincidence, Tetris itself
is featured in our most recent news article, “Your Brain On . . .
line
.”

Along with more recent work, the article mentions a 1992
study in which Richard Haier of the University of California, Irvine “measured
the rate of glucose use in the cerebrum before the volunteers practiced [Tetris] and after four to eight weeks of
practice.” As scores rose, glucose use declined, indicating that the brain
became more efficient at playing the game over time.

A search for “Tetris and brain” in PubMed returned five
additional studies, two from 2009, on topics ranging from amnesia
to cortical
thickness
. The brain-research uses of the game may only be beginning.

-Johanna Goldberg

%d bloggers like this: