Brain Game Setback

cere_110114_article_featTwo years ago we published a Cerebrum article, “The Brain Games Conundrum: Does Cognitive Training Really Sharpen the Mind?” Complicating the issue for our co-authors, Walter R. Boot and Arthur F. Kramer—both neuroscientists who had spent years studying cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and aging—were two open letters to the neuroscience community from more than one-hundred scientists, one objecting to effectiveness claims made by brain-game companies and the other a rebuttal saying brain training has a solid scientific base.

Near the end of a Q&A with Boot and Kramer following the article’s publication, Boot predicted that “maybe in ten years we might know enough to make more definitive recommendations.”

Boot’s prediction was reaffirmed earlier this week with the publishing of a comprehensive evaluation of the scientific literature on brain games in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest. Seven scientists, including Boot, reviewed more than 130 studies of brain games and other forms of cognitive training. The evaluation included studies of products from industry giant Lumosity.

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Placebos and Positive Effects in Cognitive Training Studies

Guest Post by Kayt Sukel

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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

Dana News E-Blast: February

Here are some stories recently posted on dana.org

Cerebrum-February 2016-Lithium-Article ContentLithium to the Rescue

by Richard S. Jope, Ph.D., and Charles B. Nemeroff, M.D., Ph.D.

New research reveals lithium’s role as a neuroprotector and suggests that enzymes modulated by lithium could lead to new treatments for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and other neurodegenerative disorders. From Cerebrum, our online magazine of ideas.

New Clues to the Causes of Bipolar Disorder

Cell and animal models point to abnormalities in two brain areas. Continue reading

Brain Games: Ten Years Away

When I first became editor of Cerebrum two years ago, I pitched an article about the effectiveness of brain games to my advisory board. Too soon, they suggested, because there aren’t enough good studies to support one.

That struck me as curious, since a look on Lumosity’s website revealed nine peer-reviewed studies, 36 university collaborators, and testimonials galore. Lumosity is the largest company in a brain-game business that is estimated at $1.3 billion a year.K-November-Brain Games

Three months ago the board finally greenlighted the idea for an article, on the condition that I could find a recognized authority with a track record in cognition and aging to write it. I invited Arthur F. Kramer, Ph.D., director of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science & technology and the Swanlund Chair and professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Illinois. He accepted and suggested he collaborate with research colleague Walter R. Boot, Ph.D., an associate professor at Florida State University. The result is this month’s Cerebrum article, “The Brain Games Conundrum: Does Cognitive Training Really Sharpen the Mind?” (A Q&A with the authors will post on the Dana Foundation website on Monday).

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Hockey IntelliGym wins brain fitness award

    USA Hockey is used to receiving gold medals for winning games.
Yesterday the organization grabbed the award for an off-ice
achievement: First place in the first annual Brain Fitness Innovation Awards.

    Presented by SharpBrains, the 10 finalists demonstrated a commitment to brain fitness through their “results-oriented, scalable initiatives.” A panel of 16 judges made up of researchers and corporate executives judged the Hockey IntelliGym
program the best, calling IntelliGym a “personalized program that gives
very specialized feedback to players and allows them to improve their
skills.” The judges were also impressed that the Under-18 and Under-17
USA Hockey National Teams reported they have seen improved play since
using the IntelliGym.

    Co-developed by USA Hockey (ice
hockey’s national governing body) and Applied Cognitive Engineering
(ACE), the Hockey IntelliGym may look like a videogame but serves as a
cognitive training device. Danny Dankner, CEO of ACE, wrote in an
e-mail that the IntelliGym helps players with perception, short-term
memory focus, and decision-making, brain skills necessary for on-ice
success.

Intelligym2

    “The system also develops skills like
anticipation, attention control, working memory (particularly in the
context of covered areas), planning, and pattern recognition,” he
wrote. “The tasks embedded in the training system stimulate a similar
skill-set, only in a more intense workload (and thus this technology is
dubbed ‘Cognitive Simulation’). The player is presented with a
video-game-like scenario, where spaceships serve as the contextual
representation of the objects in the real environment.”    

    Dankner
also noted that ACE chose to develop products for athletes (they also
make the Basketball IntelliGym) because athletes want to outperform
competitors, and by using the product they’ll be able to see tangible
results.

      “When you talk to hockey experts, a lot of people
believed you either have (hockey sense) or you don’t,” said Ken Martel
during a conference call yesterday. Martel is the director of the
American Development Model, a USA Hockey initiative focusing on
age-appropriate training and long-term athlete development. “The really
fascinating thing for us is we firmly believed we could teach this. We
were looking for ways to make our players smarter on the rink—allow
them to make better decision. We were extremely excited with the
results (of the IntelliGym).”

    With the help of ACE, USA
Hockey is helping to disprove the myth that “game IQ” is an innate
characteristic that can’t be enhanced. As Dankner wrote, “Just like
lifting weights or working out your aerobic fitness, cognitive
performance can also be dramatically improved if only addressed by the
right ‘fitness room.’”

    The Hockey IntelliGym will be available to the public in October.

    –Andrew Kahn

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