Brainfitness can be observed? Measured? Quantified? Well, yes and no.
Prior to the arrival of fMRI, or functional magnetic resonance imaging, we could measure progress in my field (counseling) only tangentially, with psychological instruments.
fMRI, on the other hand allows us to look at the flow of blood in the human brain and watch it in action, and we can look at whether we are getting the results we want, an increase or decrease in activation in the amygdala for example, in a much more direct way.
As I have watched the Brain Fitness field explode in the marketing arena, with lots of interesting claims about what is possible, I am seeing that researchers are talking about some more precise results, and researchers are not adding in verbiage which leaves the user dreamy.
For example, Judith Beck, Ph.D., has used fMRI to observe the amygdala of folks with a spider phobia and to see if a desensitization process has made an observable change in amygdala activation, which would corroborate a client's self-report, and the fMRI allowed Dr. Beck to say that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT did make a difference in the amygdala activation of folks who had completed a desensitization process for spider phobia. There was less activation.
Other researchers are looking at the fMRI results of computerized brain training software like the Posit Science brain fitness program and the dual n back research of Susan Jaeggi and Martin Buschkull to see what happens when clients practice a regimen of training using those tools, and they are finding that there is an improvement in test scores in attention and processing speed for the Posit Science folks and IQ for the dual n back folks.
More importantly the dual n back research is showing an increase in what is called fluid intelligence, which is what I like to call the intelligence that helps me solve novel challenge.
And of course, science is showing us in great detail the impact of physical exercise on the human brain.
The more exercise I get, and it does not have to be of the incredibly strenuous kind, the more new brain cells I grow, which is called neurogenesis.
Believe me, the more new brain cells I can grow in my 60 year old head the better I like it.
That exercise can involve tools I can use at home, like my stair well, a skip rope, a rug to cushion my feet when I do burpees or jumping jacks, and if you are my age, you haven't done those since you were a kid in grade school doing calisthenics as part of your Physical Education class, but 10 minutes of 30 second intervals of various calisthenic type exercises, like push-ups, crunches, sit-ups, jumping jacks, maybe some work on an exercise ball, a treadmill, ect. will increase your heart rate, reduce your fat, and clean out your head for some replacement neurons that go right to the hippocampus where memories are laid down.
Brainfitness then is getting observed and documented, in three ways at this point, all involving very interesting research.
The neuroscientists are observing neurogenesis, and changes in how the brain increases its ability to process sensory data like sound or light, which can translate into IQ increases and more effective Senior Citizen functioning, and the therapists are looking for changes in emotional centers of the brain, like the amygdala.
Here are some brain fitness programs I have used and really enjoyed.
If you are looking to a book that gives you the background in the field and a current update, you can do no better than this one.
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