Posit Science Brain Game Reviews

Because of the fact that my review of Lumosity is one of my most popular posts right now, I’ve begun to look into other “brain game” products that are engineered for increasing working memory, etc. One of the popular (and pricey) ones is the Posit Science Brain Training products. Here’s a few reviews I grabbed from their website. The actual links take you to the testimonial page with video.

"I'm not usually that good of a softball player…"
"I noticed something out of the corner of my eye…"
"She's become more the mom that I remember from growing up."
"I had no training in computers before I started and found I didn't need it…"
"Now I'm almost finished going through the program the second time…"
"After I took the exercises I realized that I really improved…"
"It's like I've walked out of a fog…"
"We baby boomers think of ourselves as forever young…"
"We as a family needed Ryan back and we got Ryan back…"
"I could remember a whole lotta things I couldn't remember before…"
"I was astonished to find that I have dramatically better vision and focus when I drive in the dark…"
"Doing InSight has been really rewarding for me…"
"InSight saved my life…"
"I like that with DriveSharp you only need to train 20 minutes at a time."

Good news! “Zoning out” a crucial mental state

  • Stop Paying Attention: Zoning Out Is a Crucial Mental State – “When our minds wander, we lose touch with the outside world [...] we are more likely to make mistakes, fail to encode memories, or miss a connection. [...] [Scientists] tested the effect of zoning out by having a test group read a Sherlock Holmes mystery in which a villain used a pseudonym. As people were reading the passages discussing this fact, the researchers checked their state of attentiveness. Just 30 percent of the people who were zoning out at the key moments could give the villain’s pseudonym, while 61 percent of the people who weren’t zoning out at those moments succeeded. [...] The regions of the brain that become active during mind wandering belong to two important networks: [the executive control system, and the default network.]“

Both of these networks are used for thinking about goal directed behavior and the future. The article suggests that mind-wandering may lead to those Eureka!-like moments of spontaneous insight that may not occur when attentive to the present.

Striatial/hippocampal involvement in OCD/Addiction and Spatial Memory

One area of the brain called the striatum helps record cues or landmarks that lead to a familiar destination. It is the area of the commuter’s brain that goes on autopilot and allows people to get to work, often with little memory of the trip. [...] But when driving to an unfamiliar place, the brain recruits a second area called the hippocampus, which is involved in a more flexible system called spatial learning. [...] In one group, they disrupted areas of the striatum in mice and discovered that their ability to complete landmark navigation tasks was impaired. However, these mice actually improved on tasks that involved spatial learning. Conversely, when the researchers disrupted an area of the hippocampus involved in spatial learning, the animals could no longer navigate spatially but learned landmark tasks more quickly. [...] Obsessive-compulsive disorder, Tourette syndrome, and drug addiction involve abnormal function of the striatum.


CognitiveFun.net – Free Brain Games

I recently ran across this brain training game website that is… free! And it has all of the basic features every paid for service I’ve used has (including “brainbuilder” and “lumosity).

Some of the included games are notably ones used in scientific studies for measures of working memory, etc. These included: auditory and textual digit span testing, forward and backwards, stroop, and dual n-back tasks.

Check it out at http://www.cognitivefun.net

And big props to the guys that put this together.

Mnemosyne – Spaced Repetition Memorization

So, I’m back in school as a biology major. I’ve got a lot of hardwork ahead of me, and one of the methods I’m using to attempt to make sure I remember what I’ve studied, and test well is I’m using a “spaced repetition” flash card program.

Mnemosyne is open source, and thus free, but it is based off of the supermemo algorithm which Piotr Wozniak built off of legitimate memory research, which essentially found that the most efficient way to study is to rehearse things just before we forget them. So, based off of his research, he created an algorithm and memory card program to do just this.  You may learn more about Piotr, and supermemo in his wired article:

Want to Remember Everything You Learn? Surrender to this Algorithm.

So my goal this year? To be able to know my classes well enough to not even have to study for my finals. Wish me luck, I’m signed up for some hard ones.

Scientists Find Berry Compound Reduces Mental Age

This study specifically found that in a rat model this berry compound (Pterostilbene) reduced effects of aging in the brain.

 For the second part of the study, they fed aged rats one of three diets: control, or control adjusted to include either low or high concentrations of pterostilbene.

The results indicated that in aging rats, pterostilbene was effective in reversing cognitive decline and that improved working memory was linked to pterostilbene levels in the hippocampus region of the brain.

Working memory is also a function of the prefrontal cortex.

Read more at sciencedaily…

Wiggling Your Eyes Improves Memory Recall

Moving your eyes from left to right may enhance the ability of the brain to monitor the source of it’s memories by increasing hemispheric interaction.

Horizontal eye movements are thought to cause the two hemispheres of the brain to interact more with one another, and communication between brain hemispheres is important for retrieving certain types of memories. [...] The researchers found that the people who performed the horizontal eye movements correctly remembered, on average, more than 10 percent more words, and falsely recognized about 15 percent fewer “lure” words than the people who performed vertical eye movements or no movements at all. (Source: Livescience)

I like research like this because it tells me things about the human mind that I can see, and read on the faces of other people.

Does Your Mom Have Alzheimer’s?

If she does, you’re more likely to get Alzheimer’s than if your dad was to have it.

Over the last two decades a number of studies have shown that people with the disease have significant reductions in brain energy metabolism in certain regions of the brain. In some recent research studies these reductions are evident in healthy people years before symptoms of dementia emerge.

The researchers wanted to evaluate people with a family history of Alzheimer’s because that is one of the biggest risk factors for the disease. Alzheimer’s affects more than 5 million Americans and is the most common form of senile dementia. People with an affected parent have a 4- to 10-fold higher risk compared to individuals with no family history. It isn’t known why people with a family history are more susceptible to the disease.

Likewise, it isn’t known why individuals with a history of the disease on their mother’s side are at increased risk for Alzheimer’s, and this observation must be replicated in larger studies before it could be of use in the clinic to perhaps identify people who may be more vulnerable to the disease, says Lisa Mosconi, Ph.D., Research Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine, who led the new study. She speculates that genes that are maternally inherited might alter brain metabolism.

The new study involved 49 cognitively normal individuals, from 50 to 80 years old, who underwent a battery of neuropsychological and clinical tests, and PET (positron emission tomography) scans of their brains using a technique that labels glucose—the brain’s fuel—with a special chemical tracer. Sixteen subjects had a mother with the disease, and eight had a father with Alzheimer’s. The remaining subjects didn’t have a family history of the disease.

People with a maternal history of the disease had the largest reductions in glucose metabolism in several areas of the brain, including the medial temporal lobes and the posterior cingulate cortex, two brain regions involved with memory storage and retrieval. Brain energy metabolism was reduced by 25 percent in the posterior cingulate cortex in this group

There weren’t any reductions in brain energy metabolism in the people without a family history and in those with a father who had the disease. The effects in glucose metabolism among subjects with a maternal history remained significant after accounting for possible risk factors for Alzheimer’s, including age, gender, education, Apolipoprotein E genotype, and subjective memory complaints.

There was NO link to reduced glucose metabolism when the father had the disease. The link to mothers and Alzheimer’s appears to be quite strong. This may turn out to be a lot more than a mundane detail when interpreting future research.

Refreshing memory training sensations.

I actually just did a session of digit span exercises roughly 30 minutes, and I feel… strangely euphoric once again. I’d have to say, despite the compelling evidence that memory training can increase a person’s intelligence and potentially emotional wellbeing, the immediate light sense of euphoria I feel after a sensation is what seems to make it the most interesting to me.

After doing a session I immediately felt so good that despite feeling a little bit irritable earlier, I almost immediately came to some significant decisions about how I’m going to spend the next many months. My conclusion? Now’s the time to get organized. Tomorrow will be the beginning of a new era.

Pupil Diameter and Its Relation to Arousal

Pupil dialation has been a fascination of mine, particularily within the last couple of months. I knew that the eyes level of dialation was correlated to various things including dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine.. but have been unable to find a constant in day-to-day personalities.

What have I noticed? I’ve noticed that people who are more socially anxious almost always have extraordinarily dialated eyes when I speak with them. At one point I thought that it may even be reasonable to believe this might be an index of a persons overall anxiety, but unfortunately this did not pan out as I found that often people who were behaving in a gregarious and confident manner might often have significantly more dialated pupils than all of the people he or she was surrounded by.

Developing Intelligence, however, has dug up some information that I find… useful:

Pupil diameter is gaining currency as an index of mental effort (“cognitive workload”) as well as arousal. In the most compelling finding from this literature, pupil diameter has been observed to increase with each successive item maintained in memory, up until each subject’s working memory capacity – and then to contract incrementally as each item is reported back to the experimenter. Some recent work suggests that spontaneous eye blink rate – how quickly the eyes blink in normal, everyday situations – may also be an index of prefrontal or executive processes.

So, essentially, the pupil diameter is directly correlated to the number of items being actively maintained in the working memory. This plugs into my idea of how things work nicely. In my manner of thinking, a socially anxious person may attempt to fill their working memory capacity with the desire to *learn* from the social interaction (obviously, if they are ackward, then social skills are still actively being built)… on the other hand, a person who is confident and gregarious may well not need to fulfill his or her working memory capacity in order to make social decisions, but instead his or her ability to interact is so relaxed and natural that their working memory is actually being actively used for other tasks deemed more important than that individual social interaction.