Brain Training Program

What Happens in Brain Training Programs, Anyway?

According to Evans and Burghardt, in their book about brain training programs,  our brains are constantly engaging in an internal recalibration. Our brains use about 20% of our bodies daily fuel requirement, and in an attempt to use it wisely, our brains are constantly building and dismantling circuits inside our heads, the circuits being neurons that fire together when a certain task is undertaken.

For example, I took piano lessons when I was a little kid, and formed some circuits, but not many, while I practiced that skill, but I have not played a piano in 50 years (half a century!), so my brain has most certainly dismantled those connections. I does not serve me as an organism to keep those circuits and other unused circuits fueled and idling, prepared for action on the off chance that I will resume playing, which is lucky for people within earshot of my piano playing. That kind of idling is a waste of energy, so as circuits fall into disuse, they are dismantled.

So the synapses that once fired together in a piano playing circuit fell into disuse, which means that the neurons closed up the neurotransmitter receptors on the neurons involved in piano playing. Or involved them in another task.

However, had I continued playing, the neurons would have opened more receptors on the neurons involved in piano playing, strengthening the ability of those neurons to coordinate activity, and those neurons would have both invited other neurons into the circuit and sprouted dendrites which increase the number of connections (synapses touching) neurons have with.each other (a process called synaptogenesis, literally meaning‘synapse creation’). Think of this as multiple bridges over a river to increase the connectivity between the two sides. If one bridge fails or undergoes repairs, others can pick up the traffic.

Third, neurons can make synapses with other neurons they weren’t originally talking to and recruit more brain cells into the circuit. Again, all of these increase the odds that the signal will not get dropped. Importantly, these strategies also increase the stability of the brain circuit, making it less likely to degenerate or get dismantled as you age.

Your brain training program is constantly employing all of these tactics, all of the time. It is continually testing out new connections to see how useful they are. It then stabilizes the ones that work...."

Brain Training Programs Take One of Three Forms Usually

Brain training programs take one of three forms, broadly speaking.

One is performance enhancement, another can be characterized as damage control, or recovery of lost function, and the third is prevention of cognitive decline.

From Evans and Burghardt, "...Approaches to improve, maintain or recover cognitive function come in many forms. Some are tools you use for the explicit purposes of improving pecific skills, like memory, reaction speed, vocabulary, pattern recognition, creativity or reasoning. This is the crux of the emerging brain fitness software industry, which is putting out more and more tools, attempting to help improve these specific skill sets.

Other approaches include daily experiences, educational level, commitments to life-long learning or social support networks.

You may engage in these without the expressed goal of improving cognitive function, but many of them will have that beneficial effect anyway!"

Evans and Burghardt go on to talk about a number of key factors, actually lifestyle factors, that impact the three main kinds of brain training, including nutrition, exercise, sleep, social activity, and learning.

They caution that if one is looking for an Rx for peak performance, it will be in a combination of the above factors, which might include a brain fitness training computer program, because the programs can help you improve in short term memory for example, but short term memory improvement may not translate to global improvement in brain function.

Is There an Exception?

"However, there is promise on the global training front. A recent study at the University of Michigan showed improvement in ‘fluid intelligence’ with a specific training protocol. Fluid i ntelligence is your ability to reason your way to solve problems in areas w here you have no prior experience. It’s the ability to generalize your knowledge to fit and adapt to new situations, which is what the human brain is so advanced at doing. Researchers in the UM study were able to train volunteers on one cognitive task and get them to improve their performance on a completely different task, which no research had successfully shown before. Working on fluid intelligence is the goal o f the brain-fitness software industry and maybe more research on fluid intelligence will eventually get them there." (p.234)

Here is a link to a program based on the research cited above. It is a fun and can be a frustrating tool, which increases my awareness of how fast I can drift off into a tangential thought not related to the task at hand, the dual n back task.

What I have noticed is better attention to the task at hand in my life, and that change came very rapidly as I began my use of the Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro.

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