Mobile app promotes brain plasticity

The brain power of genius, once thought by many scientists to be genetically coded at conception is turning out to be a learned skill in addition to genetics, according to neuroscientist Michael Merzenich of Santa Rosa, California.  In the book, “The Brain That Changes Itself,” by Norman Doidge, M.D., Merzenich demonstrates how to sharpen perception, memory, increase speed of thought, and heal learning problems.

Merzenish studies a science called Neuroplasticity pronounced (neuro-plas-tis-ity) and it is a word that simply means that the brain can change when behavior changes.

Brain plasticity scientists are discovering new ways to exercise the mind in order to increase brain cells, which make learning centers in the brain larger, thus easier for a person to learn new things. Since the brain is pliable and can grow new cells, Neuroplasticity scientists are using brain plasticity exercises to heal brain and physical injuries that were once thought to be permanent disabilities, according to the Annual review of neuroscience.

These brain exercises are like physical training for the brain, much like exercising muscles in the body, which increase the size of those muscles. Exercising the mind creates a bigger and stronger brain over time.

“Brain exercises are the main treatment modality for enhancing brain function and it may be as useful as drugs to treat disorders as severe as schizophrenia,” said Merzenish. “Plasticity exists from the cradle to the grave and radical improvements in cognitive functioning, how we learn, think, and remember are possible even in the elderly.”

Merzenish has developed a computer program called, “FastForWord,” which is said to have helped hundreds of thousands improve cognition and perception. “The program is similar to a children’s game, but what is interesting is how fast changes occur,” said Diodge, “People who have used “FastForWord,” have seen results in as little as 30 to 60 hours of treatment, and unexpectedly people with autism have improved.”

 

The “FastForWord” program is primarily used on people with learning disabilities so the benefit to people without learning or brain disabilities is less documented.

 

Lumos Labs, however, has created a program for PC users at http://lumosity.com and an app on ITunes for mobile training called, Brain Trainer, which claims to increase cognitive function and increase brain strength in everybody.   Lumos Labs states it has data from over 7,200,000 user results that is being studied at Stanford University, Harvard University, University of California San Francisco, and University of Michigan to corroborate its claims. These results have been logged into a database and measured for increased performance, which the company calls Brain Performance Index (BPI) and is algorithmically calculated to measure individual performance increases in accuracy and speed against other users.

 

The metric can then be used to show individual performance improvements.

The downside to this technology is that the mind games you play to increase cognitive performance only show improvements in the actual games themselves. There are no studies published on their site to show gains in cognitive improvement outside their own platform, such as increased information retention or better test taking skills. Thus, cognitive learning improvements at this time are limited to their game platform improvements.

 

Although significant research has been done on brain plasticity and the damaged brain, exercising it using games to make you smarter is still not scientifically proven.  What is clear is that improvements in speed and function of the brain in certain tasks are well documented; these improvements are the function of repetition rather than gaming.

 

This isn’t a new secret in getting smarter, however, what may be promising is what Dr. Barea Rodriguez, a neurobiologist and brain plasticity scientist said in an interview recently, “We know that the brain can be molded into whatever we choose through repetitious study,” Rodriguez said, “However, the fact that science once thought that the brain only had a finite number of cells and now we know that the brain is capable of growing new cells is exciting.”

 

Whether a person can become a genius is debatable, but becoming a better student through repetition and learning games could be a fun way to improve cognitive skills and may be worth trying.

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