Video Games and the Brain: Action, Strategy, and Pac-Man

Playing some video games can cause serious harm, while others might improve or restore skills, suggested three panelists at the American Association for the Advancement of Science this week.

“Not all games are created equal,” said Chandramallika Basak, a researcher at the University of Texas at Dallas. She and her colleagues study how memory and other skills change across our lifespan; part of that includes research investigating brain and cognitive effects of different games, especially as people get older.

Not everything in your brain declines with age (crystallized memory stays strong), but she’s looking for activities that could strengthen the ones that do, especially working memory (including how fast you can update current information) and task-switching (how fast you can switch when multitasking). Assuming there is a “functional threshold” for success at daily life, she wonders, “Can we keep this declining cognitive abilities stable for a few more years” above this threshold. “If I’m going to live to 90, I’d rather get it [dementia] at 89” as opposed to earlier, she said.

AAAS-VGs-2

AAAS’s Deborah Runkle moderates the Q&A session with, from left, Craig Anderson, Hilarie Cash, and Chandramallika Basak.

Continue reading

Dana Press Offers Cerebrum Anthology 2016

cerebrum anthology 2016 cover

It somehow seemed appropriate that this year’s Cerebrum anthology arrived at our offices just in time for the start of Brain Awareness Week (BAW), the global campaign to raise awareness on the progress and benefits of brain research. Cerebrum has the same goal that inspired the Dana Foundation’s idea for BAW in 1996. We just go about it a little differently.

Continue reading

2017 NYC Regional Brain Bee Champions

For the first-place winner of this year’s Regional Brain Bee, biology was always the high school senior’s favorite subject in school. But it wasn’t until she was 14 years old that Winsome Ching narrowed her focus to neuroscience. After visiting a museum celebrating Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud in Vienna, Ching was “hooked” by his theories on the brain, she says. Since then, she has transitioned from Freud’s psychoanalyses to the biological aspects of brain function.

winsomeching

Ching’s passion for neuroscience shined through at the Brain Bee this past Saturday, along with her peers from 33 high schools spanning across Long Island, Westchester County, and New York City’s five boroughs. Half of Columbia University’s Alfred Lerner Hall was filled by a grid of white tables, adorned with the students’ name cards, directly facing the judges’ table; the other half was bustling with family members, friends, and teachers all gathered to cheer on the participating students. In the time before the competition began, students were scattered throughout the auditorium for one last chance to review notes and textbook chapters on the brain. Once all participants checked in, the competition began.

Continue reading

Alzheimer’s: Every Minute Counts

In the United States, someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease every minute; around the world, it’s every four seconds. “It is the biggest epidemic we have in this country,” says Harvard University’s Rudolph Tanzi, “I’m shocked that people aren’t panicked about what this disease is going to do to the country or to their families.”

This Wednesday (January 25) at 10 pm ET, PBS is premiering “Alzheimer’s: Every Minute Counts,” an urgent wake-up call about the national threat posed by the disease. The documentary includes interviews with doctors, caregivers, and longtime researchers of the disease, such as Dana Alliance member Tanzi.

Continue reading

Progress in BRAIN Initiative Research

brain_obama_robotics

President Barack Obama fist-bumps the robotic arm of Nathan Copeland during a tour at the White House Frontiers Conference at the University of Pittsburgh, Oct. 13, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

In the less than three years since the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative was announced, researchers have made measurable progress towards creating new tools and sharpening existing ones to study the brain. Though its goals are long-term, in a few cases this progress already has shown promise in helping people.

These tools “allow us to do things that, in the past, were unimaginable,” said Nora Volkow of the National Institute of Drug Abuse during the third annual BRAIN Initiative investigators meeting, held in Bethesda, Md., this week. For example, imaging tech such as fMRI and PET have enabled us to make maps of brain activity and create a brain atlas of the concentration of serotonin transporters and receptors. But to reach goals as ambitious as characterizing the many types of neurons and other cells in the brain—or even to get a good count of how many types there are—we need to improve both the speed and the resolution of our tools.

Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: