Archive for February, 2012

Rewiring the Brain

February 29, 2012

Research1 has shown that the use of the internet can result in the rewiring of the brain. Four neuroscientists at UCLA recruited 24 people ranging in age from 55 to 76 who underwent brain imaging while they did internet tasks. Twelve participants were termed net naïve, meaning that they went online just once or twice a week. The remaining 12 participants were termed net savvy, meaning that they went online at least once a day. All participants performed two tasks while their brains were being scanned. In the traditional reading task they read text on the computer presented in the format of a book. In the internet task, they performed a Web search and read content displayed on a simulated web page.

Both groups exhibited basically the same brain activity performing the traditional reading task. They used areas of the brain connected to language, memory, and reading. During the internet task, the net naïve group exhibited the same pattern of brain activity. However, the net savvy group exhibited additional areas of brain activity. These were areas associated with decision making and complex reasoning. Moreover, the net savvy group exhibited more than twice as much brain activity as the net naïve group, 21,872 voxels to 8,642 voxels of brain scan.

Subsequent research indicated that after just five days of Web training after the initial experiment, naïve brains began to work as savvy ones. So this rewiring takes place fairly quickly.

Some might argue, that although this result might be impressive, what is its bearing on a healthy memory. I would refer you to the healthymemory blog post, “Computer Use and Cognition Across Adulthood,” which shows the correlation between computer use and a healthy memory.

1Jaffe, E. (2012). Rewired: Cognition in the Digital Age. Observer, 25,2, 16-20. A Publication of the Association for Psychological Science.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Believing You Can Increase Your Intelligence Is Important

February 26, 2012

A recent study1 demonstrates why this is so. How people respond to their mistakes depends on what they believe about learning and intelligence. People who believe that intelligence develops through effort see mistakes as opportunities to learn and improve. People who believe that intelligence is a stable characteristic see mistakes as indications of a lack of ability. The former group is said to have growth mind-sets, and the latter group is said to have fixed mind-sets. The nature of an individual’s mind-set can be determined from questionnaire items. The researchers examined performance-monitoring event-related potentials (ERPs) to study the neural mechanisms underlying these different reactions to mistakes.

Twenty-five experimental participants performed a classification task, in which accuracy and speed were equally emphasized, while their ERPs were recorded. Upon completion of the experimental task, the participants completed a questionnaire using a Theory of Intelligence Scale to assess their implicit theories of intelligence (fixed or with growth potential). The findings indicated that participants with a growth mindset showed an enhancement of the error positivity component (Pe) of the ERP. This component reflects awareness of and allocation of attention to mistakes. So participants with a growth mind-set were more aware of their mistakes and allocated more attention to correcting these mistakes.

For a long time the argument was made that IQ tests indicated a fixed level of intelligence that was difficult or impossible to change. Recent research has indicated that this view of intelligence is not fixed, and that it can be improved. However, for intelligence to be improved the individual must believe that it can be improved. When this is believed, attentional resources are allocated for improvement. Otherwise, attentional resources are not allocated for improvement. This is in accordance with what makes a person a true expert. Many, many, many hours of deliberate practice are required to achieve true expertise (See the healthymemory blog post, “Deliberate Practice.”. Similarly to improve your IQ, you need to believe that it can be improved and work to improve.

It appears that whether or not you improve your intelligence is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe it can be improved, it will likely improve. If you don’t believe that it can be improved, then it will not be improved. In other words, if you believe you are stupid or of average intelligence, you will remain being stupid or of average intelligence. To increase your intelligence, believe and apply yourself.

1Moser, J.S., Schroder, H.S., Heeter, C., Moran, T.P., & Lee, Y.H. (2011). M ind Your Errors Evidence for a Neural Mechanism Linking Growth Mind-set to Adaptive Posterror Adjustments., Psychological Science, 22, 1484-1489.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Transactive Memory for Cognitive and Artistic Growth

February 22, 2012

Transactive memory includes memories/information that are stored in technology. The technology can range from paper to Cyberspace. So this blob post provides some examples. Consider the following link

http://cliptank.com/PeopleofInfluencePainting.htm

You do not need to “Click to Start” to use the web page. Scroll up and down and left to right to see the picture. When you mouse over an individual picture, the name of the individual pictured should be displayed. (Sometimes it is not displayed, you can see it in the lower left updating of the URL.) Clicking on the picture will take you to a reference, usually in the Wikipedia, telling you about the individual. So this is a good test of how much you know. It is also a good vehicle for increasing your knowledge.

The social aspect of transactive memory, that is memories of your fellow humans, can be explored by using this website to play a game. You could draw cards or straws to determine the order of play. The first person would move the cursor just below an individual. The other players would try to name the person. Naming the person would win one point. Naming the person and saying something indicating that you know something about the individual would earn a second point. Turns would rotate, with each player trying to pick relatively obscure characters that the other(s) did not know. However, in all cases, missing the name, not knowing anything about the individual, or a correct answer, the name and the reference would be checked. So if no one recognized the individual, both would learn something. The game could go on until a certain number of points were reached, or a time limit was reached. This game could be extended to multiple players. Of course, the first to respond correctly would be the only one rewarded points.

For artistic growth, go to http://www.artcyclopedia.com/museums.html

There you can explore museums and masterpieces throughout the world.

There are also some websites for learning and developing proficiency in mnemonic techniques. One is www.NeuroMod.org. Click on the Human Memory Site. Then click on the “read more” link under your preferred language. You can open up an account and record and track your progress. Another site is www.Thememorypage.net. Both of these websites are free. In addition to increasing your ability to remember, these mnemonic techniques also provide cognitive exercise (See the healthymemory blog post, “How Using Mnemonic Techniques Exercise the Brain.”

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Computer Use and Cognition Across Adulthood

February 19, 2012

The results of the first national population-based investigation of the association between computer activity and cognitive performance across adulthood has been published.1 This study involved a large national sample (N = 2,671) of adults ranging from 32 to 84 years old. Cognition was assessed by telephone with the Brief Test of Adult Cognition.2 Executive function was assessed with the Stop and Go Switch Task.3 Individuals who used the computer frequently scored significantly higher than those who seldom used the computer. The variables of age, sex, education, and health status were statistically controlled so this result maintained across all these variables. Greater computer use was also associated with better executive function on a task-switching test. Again this result held up across the basic cognitive and demographic variables. So computer activity is associated with good cognitive function and executive control across adulthood and into old age. Individuals with low intellectual ability benefited even more from computer use.

Unfortunately, computer usage declines across age. Of course, the personal computer is a relatively new technology, one that was not available earlier in the lifespans of many. It is hoped that this will be less of a problem in the future for those who have had access to computer technology throughout their lives. There are issues with perceptual and motor decline as we age, and computer technology needs to accommodate them. It is not surprising that that people with lower income and less education are less likely to use computers. It would be good to develop programs for these people that provide not only ready access to computers, but also to training in their use.

And if you have a computer, use it, don’t lose cognitive functioning or executive control. The internet provides a good vehicle for cognitive growth. It includes a vast amount of transactive memory. The computer also provides a good means of interacting with your fellow humans, although it should not be the exclusive means of interacting with fellow humans.

1Tun, P.A., & Lachman, M.E. (2010). The Association Between Computer Use and Cognition Across Adulthood: Use It So You Won’t Lose It? Psychology and Aging. 25, 560-568.

2Tun, P.A., & Lachman, M.E. (2006). Telephone Assessment of Cognitive Function in Adulthood: The Brief Test of Adult Cognition by Telephone. Age and Ageing, 35, 629-632.

3Tun, P.A., & Lachman, M.E. (2008). Age Differences in Reaction Time in a National Telephone Sample of Adults: Task Complexity, Education, and Sex Matter. Developmental Psychology, 44, 1421-1429. doi:10.1037/a00128456

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Age-Proof Your Brain

February 15, 2012

Age-Proof Your Brain: 10 Easy Ways to Keep Your Mind Fit Forever is a recent article in AARP The Magazine.1 Articles like this are summarized periodically in the healthymemory blog. There are many, many things you can do to age proof your brain, but articles like these are helpful in suggesting a manageable handful from which to choose (“31 Ways to Get Smarter in 2012” was a similar posting earlier this year). Some of the ways presented in the AARP article do not readily fall into specific healthymemory blog categories, although most have been mentioned in passing in healthymemory blog posts.

Finding your purpose is a general recommendation strongly endorsed by the healthymemory blog. The AARP article cites a study done at the Rush University Medical Center of more than 950 older adults. The study ran for seven years and it was found that participants who approached life with clear intentions and goals at the start of the study were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease over the following seven years.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is implicit, but not usually specifically mentioned in healthymemory blog posts. It is important to Reduce your risks. Chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, obesity, and hypertension are associated with dementia. Diabetes approximately doubles the risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. So it is important to follow doctor’s orders regarding diet, exercise and taking prescribed medications on schedule.

It is important to Check for vitamin deficiences. Vitamin deficiences, especially vitamin B12 can also affect brain vitality. Research from Rush University Medical Center found that older adults at risk of vitamin B12 deficiencies, had smaller brains and scored lowest on tests measuring thinking, reasoning and memory.

Diet is another topic discussed infrequently in the healthymemory blog, but as the AARP article notes “Your brain enjoys spices as much as your taste buds do. Herbs and spices such as black pepper, cinnamon, oregano, basil, parsley, ginger and vanilla are high in antioxidants.” Antioxidants are important to brain health. Curcumin, an active ingredient in turmeric is common in Indian curries. Indians have a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s. One theory is that curcumin bonds to amyloid plaques that accumulate in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. Animal studies have shown that curcumin reduces amyloid plaques and lowers inflammation levels. A study with humans found that people who ate curried foods often had higher scores on standard cognitive tests.

Another diet recommendation is to Eat like a Greek. The Mediterranean Diet rich in fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and beans reduced Alzheimer’s risk by 34 to 48 percent in a study done by Columbia University. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish are important in heart health and are suspected of also being important for brain health. Generally speaking, what is healthy for the heart is healthy for the brain.

Exercise is another activity that is good for both heart and brain. According to the AARP article, higher exercise levels can reduce dementia risk by 30 to 40 percent compared to low activity levels. People who exercise regularly also tend to have better cognition and memory than inactive people. Exercise helps your hippocampi, subdcortical memory structures well known to readers of the healthymemory blog (See the Healthymemory Blog post, “To Improve Your Memory, Build Your Hippocampus, and do a search using the term “Hippocampus”.) Experts recommend 150 minutes a week of moderate activity, although as little as 15 minutes of exercise three times a week can be helpful. So Get moving.

And Pump some iron. Older women participating in a yearlong weight-training program did 13 percent better on tests of cognitive function that did a group of women who did balance and toning exercises. According to Tereas Liu-Ambrose, “Resistance training may increase the levels of growth factors in the brain such as IGFI, which nourish and protect nerve cells.”

Say “Omm” refers to meditation. Meditation techniques can usually be found under the healthymemory blog post category “Mnemonic Techniques.” The AARP article discusses a study of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). MBSR involves focusing one’s attention on sensations, feelings, and states of mindfulness. This has been shown to reduce harmful stress hormones. At the end of an eight week study MRI scans of participants’ brains showed that the density of gray matter in the hippocampus increased significantly in the MBSR group, compared to a control group. Studies have found that other types of meditation have also been beneficial. Search the healthymemory blog on “meditation” to find related healthymemory blog posts.

The remaining two recommendations fall under the healthymemory blog category “Ttansactive Memory.” Get a (social) life means interact with your fellow human beings for a healthy memory. The AARP articles mentions a University of Michigan Study in which research participants did better on tests of short-term memory after just 10 minutes of conversation with another person. There are two types of transactive memory. One type refers to the memories of our fellow humans, and the practice of seeking them out and swapping information between our swapping memories is beneficial.

Seek out new skills can involve both types of transactive memory: human and technological. So learning new things from our fellow humans, as well as from periodicals, books, and the internet is beneficial to our brains and our memories. The important point is to continue to grow cognitively and to not just do things that you routinely do.

1http://www.aarp.org/health/brain-health/info-01-2012/boost-brain-health.html

My Mom’s Gone

February 8, 2012

My Mom has just passed away. Although she made it into her 100th year, she did not make it to her 100th birthday. I was blessed with two fine parents. Our home had lots of love and lots of laughs. My Dad passed when he was 62. He was riding his bicycle when his heart went into fibrillation. He died all too young, and his passing was especially painful for me and my Mom. A number of years ago we moved my Mom to be close by us in an assisted living facility. Although I was not aware of it then, I believe that the onset of dementia had already occurred. Over the years she lost more and more of her memory and more and more of her cognitive functioning. This was very sad. We are largely what we are able to remember. I would search for family memories that she could recall and try to relive them, but over time fewer and fewer were accessible from her memory. Her physical health also declined and there were periodic stays in the hospital. At her last visit to the hospital, it was recommended that she be transitioned to hospice care, as there was no hope of recovery and the only prospect was prolonging her misery. I visited her daily knowing that I was watching her die. The hospice did what they legally could to reduce her discomfort, but it was clear that her existence was not a happy one. So although I am sad to lose my Mom, I am glad that her suffering is over.

I have thought and continue to think about how my Mom’s mental decline could have been prevented or at least mitigated. Professor Stine-Morrow has an interesting theory of cognitive aging1 (also see the Healthymemory Blog Post, “Memory and Aging”). She thinks that as we age, we deploy our attentional resources less since we have compiled so much information that we can cruise along and think less. Her theory fits nicely in to Nobel Lauerate Danile Kahneman’s Two System View of human cognition (see the reason Healthymemory Blog Post, “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” and search on “Two System View” for more posts on the topic). System 1 is fast and requires little mental effort. System 2 is slow and requires mental effort, which can be significant depending on the nature of the thinking.

So the view is that as we age we can become mental couch potatoes. There is a hardening of the categories regarding what we know and what we are willing to consider. To continue the analogy with physical exercise, engaging in System 2 processing , while effortful, provides mental exercise. In turn, this mental exercise might ward off or mitigate cognitive decline. The goal of the Healthymemory Blog is not just to ward off or slow cognitive decline, but to foster cognitive growth throughout our lives.

One way of looking at the Healthymemory Blog is as a tool for fostering System 2 processing. It is hoped that the blog posts themselves foster System 2 processing. The Mnemonic Techniques category includes posts that are specific to improving memory performance. In addition to improving memory performance, these techniques can also provide cognitive exercise. The Transactive Memory category provides posts describing how technology and our fellow human beings can foster System 2 processing.

The Healthymemory Blog is dedicated to my Mom. I am sorry that I did not do more for her. I hope to atone by providing information that will assist myself and others not only in avoiding or mitigating cognitive decline, but also to foster cognitive growth throughout our lifespans.

There will be a brief hiatus in Healthymemory Blog posts. But I trust there is plenty here to foster your System 2 processing.

1Stine-Morrow, A. L. (2008).  The Dumbledore Hypothesis of Cognitive Aging.  Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16, 295-299.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

What Can Pharmacology Offer for a Healthy Memory?

February 1, 2012

For some people, the answer might be everything, or given time, everything. They believe that pharmacology will eventually provide a cure and/or a preventative to Alzheimer’s and dementia, and that it will enhance cognitive performance so that we can learn more and master more difficult subjects. This is to say nothing about the eventual beneficial effects to the economy and society. A recent article1 has motivated this blogger to post some cautionary remarks. It should be remembered that our cognitive abilities are the product of evolution. A common misconception is that evolution produces optimal results. No, evolution satisfices, that is provides a satisfactory solution to environmental challenges. These solutions involve trade-offs. For example, a woman’s pelvis is the sized so that it can both support bipedalism and the large cranium of an emerging baby.

Although our cognitive abilities might not be optimal, they have been shaped by evolution. We have two systems for processing information, System 1, which is fast, and System 2 which is slow but more thorough (See the Healthymemory Blog Post, “The Two System View of Cognition”and “Thinking Fast and Slow). Without System 1 we would have become extinct a long time ago. But without System 2 both our cognitive and cultural achievements would be extremely limited. One way of thinking about trade-offs is to think of an inverted U. Initially more of a factor is beneficial. However, at some point (the apex of the inverted U) more of this factor is causing losses someplace else.

Robert Bjork has suggested that there is a symbiosis of forgetting, remembering, and learning.2 John Anderson has written an entire book3 documenting how human cognition has been shaped to deal with the environment in an effective manner. Luria’s famous book, The Mind of a Mnemonist, about an individual referred to as “S” who had a phenomenal memory and earned his living by giving performances using his fantastic memory, had too much of a good thing. For example, he had difficulty remembering faces, which appeared to him as changing patterns. Research has also indicated that savant-like abilities such as S‘s can be induced in normal participants by turning off particular functional areas of the brain via repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation.4

There are also individual differences determining whether pharmacology will be beneficial. Individuals of normal or above-average cognitive ability often show negligible improvements or even decrements in performance from certain drugs. One study5 found that modafinal improved performance only among individuals with lower IQs. In another study6, low-performing individuals showed enhanced performance, but high-performing individuals showed reduced performance after taking amphetamines. Inverted U shaped dose-response curves are quite common.7

This is not to say that there is no role for pharmacology in fostering a healthy memory. Clearly in the preceding examples low-performing individuals were showing benefits. But more is not necessarily better. Long term side effects of medication must also be considered.

1Hills, T. & Hertwig, R. (2011). Why Aren’t We Smarter Already: Evolutionary Trade-Offs and Cognitive Enhancements. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20:373. http://cdp.sagepub.com/content/20/6/373

2Bjork, R.A. (2011). On the Symbiosis of Forgetting, Remembering, and Learning. In A.S. Benjamin (Ed.) Successful Remembering and Successful Forgetting: A Festschrift in Honor of Robert A. Bjork. (pp 1-22). London, England:Psychology Press.

3Anderson, J.R., (1990). The Adaptive Character of Thought. Psychology Press.

4Snyder, A. (2009). Explaining and Inducing Savant Skills: Privileged Access to Lower Level Less Processed Information. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 364, 1399-1405.

5Randall, D.C. Shneerson, J.M., & File, S.E. (2005) . Cognitive Effects of Modafinil in Student
Volunteers May Depend on IQ. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 82, 133-139.

6Farah, M.J., Haimm, C., Sankoorika, G., & Chatterjee (2009). When We Enhance Cognition with Adderall, Do We Sacrifice Creativity? A Preliminary Study. Psychopharmacology, 202, 541-547.

7Cools, R., & Robbins, T.W. (2004). Chemistry of the Adaptive Mind. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society London, A, 362, 2871-2888.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.