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FireFox Makes Inroads Amongst the Brainy

With the brainy users of this site, FireFox continues to climb in usage with a full 27.78% share of users so far this year, compared to 63.3% for IE. Last year's share of browser was 4.95% for FireFox, 85% IE.

2006 detail.....
Microsoft Internet Explorer 63.30%
Firefox 27.78%
Safari 4.46%
Netscape 2.41%
Opera 1.36%
Mozilla 0.54%
WebTV Internet Terminal 0.05%
WebTV Plus Receiver 0.03%
Konqueror 0.03%
Blazer 0.01%
Danger Web Browser 0.01%
Microsoft Pocket Internet Explorer 0.01%
PSP (PlayStation Portable) Internet Browser 0.01%
Unknown 0.00%


A Hand for Referrers.

who refers people to cognitivelabs.com? it's a good question? lots of people just bookmart it - with furl or delicious, or some of the others. digglicious is an interesting combination of digg and delicious....

Brain-Training: Evidence for Impact-Kotaku

Kotaku has put together a short brief of a couple of articles on evidence for the positive impact of games.

wife/girlfriend/mother start that annoying harpy talk, complaining about your lack of attention given to anything but your level 59 Undead Rogue, refer her to this Globe And Mail article. It’s almost proof-positive that learning a second language is for suckers (okay, not really) and that video games are the only education you need.

You’ll appear even smarter when you quote the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience which "shows [that] the elderly lose the ability to power up brain regions, such as the frontal lobe, needed to focus on a task" an area that video game experience helps develop.

Or drop this reference from the Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, which states that "video gamers consistently outperform their non-playing peers in a series of tricky mental tests".

original reference: Globe and Mail


A Retirement Home for Birds

Since we talked about birds the other day...a very interesting report appeared in today's New York Times . It seems that with many people, increasing age makes it difficult for them to care for pets such as birds - in particular parrots who often live to be over 80 years old. But a foundation in Arizona is helping by taking in wayward birds that otherwise would not be cared for.


Brain Health Tips from Harvard Yard

The May issue of Harvard's Men's Health Watch reports that mental decline is one of the most feared consequences of aging, but cognitive impairment is not inevitable. Here are some ways you can help reduce your risk for age-related memory loss:

(notice some reference to (neurogenesis)

• Get mental stimulation: Brainy activities stimulate new connections between nerve cells and may even help the brain generate new cells. Read, draw, take classes, and explore new hobbies.
• Get physical exercise: Exercise increases the number of blood vessels that bring blood to the region of the brain responsible for thought. It also spurs the development of new nerve cells. In one study, for every mile a woman walked each day, her risk of cognitive decline dropped by 13%.
• Improve your diet: A reduced-calorie diet has been linked to a lower risk of mental decline. Also remember your Bs: folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12. These can help lower homocysteine levels. High homocysteine has been linked to an increase risk of dementia.
• Improve your blood pressure: High blood pressure in midlife increases the risk of cognitive decline.
• Improve your cholesterol: High levels of LDL ("bad" cholesterol) increase the risk of dementia, as do low levels of HDL ("good" cholesterol).
• Avoid tobacco: According to one study, smoking doubles the risk of dementia.
• Don’t abuse alcohol: Excessive drinking is a major risk factor for dementia. If you choose to drink, limit yourself to two drinks per day.
• Protect your head: Moderate to severe head injuries early in life increase the risk of cognitive impairment.
• Build social networks: One study linked frequent social interactions with a 42% reduction in dementia risk.


Birds Can Learn Language?

Parrots can say things like "Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum" but can they really learn speech? Wes and I have recently seen a cockatiel chirp back at an auditory memory test that, the bird thought, was talking to it. This was fascinating and hilarious.

Now it seems that birds and other amimals may be able to learn speech, but are frustrated in a Kafka-esque way, or perhaps, like Aslan the Lion their natural utterances such as roaring contain more meaning than we think. Here's more...

WASHINGTON - The simplest grammar, long thought to be one of the skills that separate man from beast, can be taught to a common songbird, new research suggests.
Starlings learned to differentiate between a regular birdsong "sentence" and one containing a clause or another sentence of warbling, according to a study in Thursday's journal Nature. It took University of California at San Diego psychology researcher Tim Gentner a month and about 15,000 training attempts, with food as a reward, to get the birds to recognize the most basic of grammar in their own bird language.

Yet what they learned may shake up the field of linguistics.

While many animals can roar, sing, grunt or otherwise make noise, linguists have contended for years that the key to distinguishing language skills goes back to our elementary school teachers and basic grammar. Sentences that contain an explanatory clause are something that humans can recognize, but not animals, researchers figured.

Two years ago, a top research team tried to get tamarin monkeys to recognize such phrasing, but they failed. The results were seen as upholding famed linguist Noam Chomsky's theory that "recursive grammar" is uniquely human and key to the facility to acquire language.

But after training, nine out of Gentner's 11 songbirds picked out the bird song with inserted warbling or rattling bird phrases about 90 percent of the time. Two continued to flunk grammar.

"We were dumbfounded that they could do as well as they did," Gentner said. "It's clear that they can do it."

Gentner trained the birds using three buttons hanging from the wall. When the bird pecked the button it would play different versions of bird songs that Gentner generated, some with inserted clauses and some without. If the song followed a certain pattern, birds were supposed to hit the button again with their beaks; if it followed a different pattern they were supposed to do nothing. If the birds recognized the correct pattern, they were rewarded with food.

Gentner said he was so unprepared for the starlings' successful learning that he hadn't bothered to record the songs the starlings sang in response.

"They might have been singing them back," Gentner said.

To put the trained starlings' grammar skills in perspective, Gentner said they don't match up to either of his sons, ages 2 and 9 months.

What the experiment shows is that language and animal cognition is a lot more complicated than scientists once thought and that there is no "single magic bullet" that separates man from beast, said Jeffrey Elman, a professor of cognitive science at UCSD, who was not part of the Gentner research team.

Marc Hauser, director of Harvard University's Cognitive Evolution Laboratory, who conducted the tamarin monkey experiment, said Gentner's study was important and exciting, showing that "some of the cognitive sources that we deploy may be shared with other animals."

But Hauser said it still doesn't quite disprove a key paper he wrote in 2002 with Chomsky. The starlings are grasping a basic grammar, but not the necessary semantics to have the language ability that he and Chomsky wrote about.

Hauser said Gentner's study showed him he should have tried to train his monkeys instead of just letting them try to recognize recursive grammar instinctively. But starlings may be more apt vocalizers and have a better grasp of language than non-human primates. Monkeys may be trapped like Franz Kafka's Gregor Samsa, a man metamorphosized into a bug and unable to communicate with the outside world, Hauser suggested.

Neural Interface for Gaming. again

Slashdot and the SJ Mercury News today are reporting a 'neural interface' for gaming on the horizon....takes us back to our march 12 post....


Girl's Reaction Time Tops Boys...

A new study shows that younger girls routinely beat boys in timed tasks. That means they should be better on this simple reaction time test - which measures the speed of your brain(working in conjunction with your PC's processor). The real interest in timing comes down to efficiency - this was a strong interest of Andrew Carnegie and other gilded age entrepreneurs and led to the rise of Taylor and his theory of the optimal shovel load (17 pounds) when you are throwing coal into the smelter. In later years both UPS and FedEx used I.E. (such as the Chinese postman algorithm)to map out the best squiggly routes to deliver packages...there was an allowance of everything from turning the key off and getting out of the truck (upsspeak: package car) to capturing your signature with the nifty electronic clipboard to eating a sandwich at lunch (eat faster!). In fact, Tom Hank's character who said "Wilson!" was one of those hated efficiency goons.

Here's a report on the study....

A new study of 8,000 people age 2 to 90 found females handle timed tasks more quickly than males.

The difference is most pronounced among pre-teens and teenagers.

"If you look at the ability of someone to perform well in a timed situation, females have a big advantage," said Stephen Camarata of Vanderbilt University.

The study did not reveal significant overall intelligence difference by gender, however.

"To truly understand a person's overall ability, it is important to also look at performance in un-timed situations," Camarata said. He thinks educators should pay attention to the results at a time when girls are generally outperforming boys in school.

"Consider that many classroom activities, including testing, are directly or indirectly related to processing speed," Camarata and colleague Richard Woodcock write in the May-June issue of the journal Intelligence. "The higher performance in females may contribute to a classroom culture that favors females, not because of teacher bias but because of inherent differences in sex processing speed."

The newly revealed gender gap in processing speed is not related to things like reaction time while playing a video game. "It's the ability to effectively, efficiently and accurately complete work that is of moderate difficulty," Camarata said.

Children in kindergarten and younger process tasks at similar speeds. The difference becomes pronounced in elementary school. On the portions of standardized tests that reflected processing speed, and among those age 14-18 in the study sample, girls scored an average of 105.5 whereas boys scored 97.4.

The study also found that boys consistently outperformed girls in identifying objects, knowing antonyms and synonyms, and completing verbal analogies. The researchers say that debunks the popular notion that girls develop all communication skills earlier than boys.

Make Your Brain Green

This focus and reaction time trainer has become pretty popular.
It has an elementary simplicity - you can see what the task is (clicking on dots) and it gets harder as you are pushed for more time and go through the cycle. It is coded totally in javascript and throws up a little alert box at the end with your score. It doesn't rely at all on PC-software, no DLLs - the only function that is called is the clockspeed - and that could come from anything with a chip and any kind of interface - it could even be a chip-enriched toaster with a handle you push down.

Why choose the picture? In Egyptian the word for rejuvenate literally was "to make green" and is transliterated in English letters as s -w -dj (no vowels, like Hebrew) and could have been pronounced sowage, sewege, or sewage. The symbol is a reed bundle - and it was connected to the post inundation time when everything was green - it also ties into the seasons and the concept of planting.

With exercise, we make our brains 'green' and revitalized amidst an oasis in the desert.


Emotional Brain Wiring Differs Between Men and Women

UC Irvine researchers have asserted the existence of differential wiring in the brains of men and women, impacting perception and reaction. A cluster of neurons processing input such as fear and aggression links to separate cognitive functions.

In men, the cluster integrates with brain regions connected to responsiveness to external stimuli, such as the visual cortex and an area that coordinates motor actions.

In women, the neurons communicates with brain regions linked to internal regulators, such as the insular cortex and hypothalamus. These areas tune in to and regulate women's hormones, heart rate, blood pressure, digestion and respiration.

"Throughout evolution, women have had to deal with a number of internal stressors, such as childbirth, that men haven't had to experience," said study co-author Larry Cahill of the University of California Irvine. "What is fascinating about this is the brain seems to have evolved to be in tune with those different stressors."

The finding, published in the recent issue of the journal NeuroImage, could help researchers learn more about sex-related differences in anxiety, autism, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Ad: Get Test Code for Your Site | Try a Memory Pic Beta

The scans also showed that men's and women's amygdalas are polar opposites in terms of connections with other parts of the brain. In men, the right amygdala is more active and shows more connections with other brain regions. In women, the same is true of the left amygdala.

Scientists still have to find out if one's sex also affects the wiring of other regions of the brain. It could be that while men and women have basically the same hardware, it's the software instructions and how they are put to use that makes the sexes seem different.


Nokia and MIT collaborate

Aiming high in delivering new innovations...

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts and HELSINKI, Finland, April 21 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Advancing the vision of mobility while developing real-world applications, Nokia and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) today announce the opening of the Nokia Research Center Cambridge. The joint research facility, a collaboration between Nokia Research Center and MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), brings researchers and scientists from MIT and Nokia together to develop high-impact research to create the state-of-the-art in communications technologies.

"Our mission is to explore and develop technologies that will be available in the marketplace in five to ten years - not just novelties, but technologies that will see mass market demand from consumers and enterprises," said Dr. Bob Iannucci, head of Nokia Research Center. "With MIT's academic and research expertise, Nokia's mobility and technology leadership, and the fusion of some of the world's brightest minds, the Nokia Research Center Cambridge will provide a platform for delivering compelling new innovations."

The center is currently focusing its research on several projects, each part of a larger vision where mobile devices become elements of an "ecosystem" of information, services, peripherals, sensors and other devices. These projects revolve around enhancing people's lives and productivity by enabling more intuitive interaction between individuals, machines and environments, and range from developing the underlying computer architecture to leveraging and extending the Semantic Web. Although not commercially available today, projects like those underway could likely become real-world applications within the next decade.


Sacramento Focus

Activities in Sacramento in support of Alzheimer's awareness are a focus this week...


Wal-Mart Aims Shotgun at Medicine

I like Wal-Mart. Where else can you get a one pound bag of red vines for a buck? Our local Wal-Mart in Mountain View even gets visited by Marguerite, the Stanford student shuttle. There, economically minded Stanford students mix with Hispanics, Arabs, and people from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and China - Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, Catholics, Shiites, Sunnis, Protestants, and from just about everywhere else, procuring things on the cheap.

Go to the Wal Mart supercenter in Cody, WY and you'll see how it is the major market for everything in the town. Also, lots of great fossils nearby for palaeontologists.

See Wal-Mart's plans for healthcare.

Dying, Out of Fashion

Surging Longevity is threatening to break the curve carefully plotted out by population ecologists over the past century. As Dr. Ashford will tell you, there has been a 2 year increase in life expectancy every decade since 1900.

What this means is that your chance of living longer, even without radical interventions propounded by individuals like Aubrey DeGrey (cutting down to 1,000 calories per day through caloric restriction) is certain to increase. For me, this soylent-green like scenario is not very fun.

With the reduction of heart disease and cancers in a stepwise fashion - the greatest threat to longevity then becomes Alzheimer's Disease which is closely connected to age. In fact, the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer's is indeed age.(Aricept.com).

Therefore, exercising the brain and body will be key to avert this outcome. Tremendous progress in cybernetics is happening and biomechanical storage (Seagate, anyone?)will eventually let people store memories. There are a number of technical and biological issues to overcome including just settling on a unified theory of memory creation and storage in the brain which would then allow researchers to 'write' memory to a device that could be accessed. You could then google whatever memory you wanted to replay it. It is not known if you could store new memories in the same fashion.

Live long enough, and it may be possible. By then we should have 100 million members.


USGS on quake preparedness

Some suggestions from the nearby USGS on getting ready for the next tectonic event...

Diet Takes on Memory Loss

A new study that will appear in the Annals of Neurology concludes one of the largest longitudinal evaluations of diet in connection with cognition. Phys.org reports that the Meditteranean Diet appears to offer promise, that is, a diet rich in olive oil and legumes.

Support cognitive awareness. Get Tools for your site.


Cognitive Fitness Hits Mainstream

Keeping the Brain Fit has now hit the mainstream with the launch of the first mass-market product in this area from Nintendo. Well now, there are other games and tools available - one of the best deals, with the most accessible entertainment along with the most scientifically relevant content is - right here. People seem to agree...and for that, we thank you for your support. Hope you were able to get your taxes in...some people on the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S. have until tomorrow evening - since today it is Patriot's Day in remembrance of Paul Revere and Co.
I am sure all of the readers of this blog have finished the task long ago, however...

Blogging Fights Alzheimer's, Report Says

A new study reported in the Social Software Blog ( part of Weblogs Inc )by Marshall Kirkpatrick reports that blogging can help fight Alzheimer's. We agree with this on two fronts (1) It's a great way to connect in an informal, but thoughtful way and keep the brain working and (2) fosters communication all over, while bringing science discoveries and news to everyone....

It's also a great way to spread the word about things like free tools for your site


Collapse and Sustainability

Just finished Collapse, by Jared Diamond. It takes a geographic perspective on why societies either run out of resources or manage to adapt their practices for sustainability. Looking at Polynesia, Easter Island was completely deforested. 2,000 years ago it had some of the largest palm trees in the world, but wasteful practices led to a competition between chiefs for the largest and most elaborate moai the famed, brooding statues that gaze out to sea. Increasing hunger led to the decline of the chiefs, who could no longer provide for their followers, and were overthrown.

Similarly, in Greenland, Norse settlers didn't adapt sufficiently, pursuing a European lifestyle that eventually led to deforestation, coupled with the onset of the Medieval Ice Age around the year 1400. The Inuit, by contrast, moved in and were able to survive due their flexible hunting skills and ingenuity. In Iceland, however, the Norse adapted sufficiently to make the settlement a success, perhaps because of the greater fertility of the land derived from renewed ash deposits.

Japan appeared to be headed for disaster, but the Tokogawa shogunate enacted a system for forest management that preserved and renewed a scare resource. As a result, up to 75% of Japan's land is today forested, despite having 5,000 people per square mile - an extremely dense population.

One wonders if practices in the U.S. will stand up over a millennium, such as the drawing of water from precious acquifers in Nevada, the assimilation of the Colorado River, and the dependence on the Sierra/Cascade snowpack for all of California's water needs. One or two snowless years (in contrast to this year) will lead to unknown consequences. Perhaps California will have to look at desalination plants as have been deployed in the Gulf (Arabian) States.


More on the Mind Machine Interface....

This is a hot area. Our last post on the topic was widely posted on about 5,000 blogs including Kotaku. Here, Mike Kenward of Science Business puts a price tag on the wireless human-computer interface of about $5,000. We wonder how quickly these interface devices, which offer potential to aid in recovery from strokes or to assist individuals like Stephen Hawking regain tactile functionality or to narrowcast va RSS to subscribers all over the world on their PC's - will be made into products. For me, I wouldn't bet against some of the companies that have redefined consumer electronics from getting active and making something happen.


Cognitive Scores Improved with Moderate Alcohol Consumption

South Africa's IOL reports that a study has found that women who consume a 'moderate' amount of alcohol performed better on cognitive tests than woman in a control group. This study contradicts some other recent studies and accepted belief that any alcohol may cause a degree of impairment. It may be that the subjects could avoid outside distraction more effectively because of the moderate intake, but certainly this deserves additional study.


A Small Step for One, A Giant Leap for All

You can start earning from Cognitive Labs immediately by putting a 'memory test' link on your site. This is on top of the social benefit that you, working with us, are helping to create.

People dream of things like eliminating world hunger, fostering world peace, or stamping out disease. Helping others develop awareness of their cognitive health through your evangelism is a small but significant step in the right direction; get the tools and put them on your site. With people joining us all the time, we will make a giant leap forward in developing a deep understanding of the factors affecting brain health and awareness, how to mitigate them, and simultaneously be able to support the needs of more people than ever before through 'extensible' tools that bring power to all of us. Friends, colleagues, relatives - it's in your hands to help them.

Cognitive Labs Releases CodeShack

Code Shack

Code Shack lets you put memory tests on your site, blog, bulletin board or personal space. If you want to help fight memory loss and promote cognitive health for everyone around the world, these free tools do that!Kind of like UPS Internet Tools at UPS which became a sensation. All sites needed it for package tracking (Lycos, Yahoo, InfoSeek, Amazon, etc.) this goes back to the time (almost) when Yahoo! had a grey screen, so did ups.com; in this case we are dealing with THE BRAIN and brainspeed. Don't forget, we initiated this concept (brainspeed) in 2005 particularly with Natrol (Nasdaq: NTOL) which started a site called brainspeed.com. So, now we're ready to knock the cover off the ball, steroid-free.


Individuals Explore Ancestry with Genetic Tests: NY Times Reports They're No Longer Just for Scientists

Society Altering Technology?

The New York Times is running a series called the DNA Age . A story by Amy Harmon asserts that Genetic testing has entered the mainstream, with parents using it to help make college selection and financial aid decisions, physicians and other caregivers using it to screen for likelihood of various diseases and maladies, and others claiming membership or non-membership in exclusionary social circles based on genetic footprint.

The impact on society could indeed be far reaching. Find out your BrainSpeed.

Kaiser Permanente Study: Obesity Leads to 3X the Incidence for Alzheimer's

A Kaiser Permanente Medical Group Study covering 9,000 people who were in their 40's in the 1960's and 1970's has found that those who were obese at the time of their first participation in the study have suffered from Alzheimer's at three times the rate of those who were not obese.

This finding provides more supporting evidence of the need to exercise the body as well as the mind.

Blood Pressure and Dementia Risk Asserted

The Pacific Health Research Institute in Honolulu's long term study of Japanese-American men born between 1900 amd 1919 has found a linkage between sustained treatment for high blood pressure and reduction of dementia.....

(CogLabs News) Maintaining high blood pressure treatment may reduce the risk of dementia in old age, researchers reported in the rapid access issue of Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Lead author of the study Rita Peila, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at the National Institute on Aging (NIA), said "For every year of hypertension treatment, there is increased protection against dementia."

Some physicians hesitate to treat hypertension in the elderly because of concerns that lowering blood pressure might impair cognitive functioning. However, clinical trials have shown no harmful effects on cognitive function in elderly patients undergoing hypertension therapy.

"Hypertension treatment in the very old -- those aged 80 and older -- protects against stroke, heart disease and heart failure, and now we see that there is no harm -- and perhaps a benefit -- on cognitive function," said Peila, who is also a scientist at the Pacific Health Research Institute in Honolulu.

Researchers analyzed data from the long-term Honolulu-Asia Aging Study on Japanese-American men born between 1900 and 1919. They focused on 848 men (ages 50-65) who had mid-life high blood pressure and were free of dementia at age 77 (on average). Then, at follow-up visits three and six years later, the men had a thorough diagnostic evaluation for dementia and took the Cognitive Abilities Screening Instrument, a well-recognized test of cognitive function in Japanese and Western populations.

Of the 848 men, researchers identified 142 who had never been treated for their hypertension and 706 who were being treated at the age 77 examination. Researchers divided the treated group based on the duration of treatment:

* 195 men were on medication for less than five years;
* 149 were treated from five to 12 years; and
* 362 men were treated for more than 12 years prior to the exam.

Researchers found that each year of treatment reduced the risk of developing dementia during the follow-up period by about 3 percent. Compared with men who were never treated for hypertension, the risk of developing dementia during the follow-up period was:

* 6 percent lower in those treated less than five years;
* 48 percent lower in those treated from five to 12 years;
* 60 percent lower in those treated more than 12 years -- similar to the risk in a control group of 446 men with normal blood pressure.

"We found protection against both Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia," Peila said. "There is more and more recognition that there is a vascular component to Alzheimer's disease."

Long-term hypertension can damage blood vessels of the brain, and the brains of Alzheimer's patients often have tiny blood clots and small infarcts, she said.

While only 7.8 percent of the 848 men were diagnosed with dementia, even those who did not have dementia showed cognitive declines. But men who had untreated hypertension had significantly more cognitive decline than men with normal blood pressure and hypertensive men treated for at least five years.


Scientists Capture, Track Moments of Insight in the Brain

Moments of Realization and Creativity Occur in the Prepared Mind

Using 2 kinds of instruments, Scientists have detected definitive traces
of "creative insight" or satori ocurring in the brain in real time.

Newswise says that if you’ve experienced the highs and lows of creative thinking, you know that sometimes the creative well is dry, while at other times creativity is free flowing. It is during the latter times that problem solvers often experience so-called “Aha!” moments – those moments of clarity when the solution to a vexing problem falls into place with a sudden insight and one sees connections that previously eluded you.

But why do "Aha!" moments sometimes come easily and sometimes not at all? A new study reveals that patterns of brain activity before people even see a problem predict whether they will solve it with or without a sudden insight, and these brain activity patterns are likely linked to distinct types of mental preparation.

John Kounios, a professor of psychology at Drexel University, Mark Jung-Beeman of Northwestern University, and their research team report their findings in a new paper published in the journal Psychological Science.

"Our previous work showed that the ‘Aha! Moment’ is associated with a specific and unique brain mechanism," said Kounios. "The new study shows that this ‘Aha! Moment’ is the culmination of a process that begins even before one starts working on a specific problem. People can prepare to solve an upcoming problem with a flash of insight by adopting a particular frame of mind for doing so.

The research suggests subjects can mentally prepare to have an "Aha!" solution even before a problem is presented. Specifically, as they prepare for problems that they solve with insight, their pattern of brain activity suggests that they are focusing attention inwardly, are ready to switch to new trains of thought, and perhaps are actively silencing irrelevant thoughts. This shows its possible to prepare mentally to solve problems with different thinking styles and that these different forms of preparation can be identified with specific patterns of brain activity. This study may eventually lead to an understanding of how to attain the optimal "frame of mind" to deal with particular types of problems.

This research team’s previous study revealed that just prior to an "Aha!" solution, after there has been work on solving a problem, the brain momentarily reduces visual inputs, with an effect similar to shutting of the eyes or looking away to facilitate the emergence into consciousness of the solution. The new study extends these findings by suggesting that mental preparation involving inward focus of attention promotes insight even prior to the presentation of a problem.

Participants in the new study were presented with a series of word puzzles. Each problem consisted of three words (for example, tank, hill, secret), and participants had to think of a single word that could form a compound or common phrase with each of the three words. Sometimes the problem was solved with a sudden flash of insight – the solution suddenly pops into consciousness and seems obviously correct. At other times, solving such problems is more methodically, and involves "trying out" possible solutions until on the correct one is found (in this case, top: tank top, hilltop, top secret).

In two parallel experiments, participants solved these problems while brain activity was monitored either with electroencephalograms (EEG), which provide precise timing information and approximate anatomical information, or with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which gives a more precise location of active brain areas, but with less precise timing. The researchers focused on neural activity that occurred during the period just before each problem was displayed.
The two brain imaging techniques yielded highly similar results and showed a different pattern of brain activity prior to problems that were subsequently solved with an "Aha!," compared to the pattern of brain activity prior to problems solved more methodically.

Mental preparation that led to insight solutions was generally characterized by increased brain activity in temporal lobe areas associated with conceptual processing, and with frontal lobe areas associated with cognitive control or "top-down" processing. Jung-Beeman noted that "Problem solvers could use cognitive control to switch their train of thought when stuck on a problem, or possibly to suppress irrelevant thoughts, such as those related to the previous problem." In contrast, preparation that led to more methodical solutions involved increased neural activity in the visual cortex at the back of the brain — suggesting that preparation for deliberate problem solving simply involved external focus of attention on the video monitor on which the problem would be displayed.

More than a century ago, Louis Pasteur said "Chance favors only the prepared mind." By this, he meant that sudden flashes of insight don’t just happen, but are the product of preparation. According to Kounios, "We have begun to understand how the brain prepares for creative insight. This will hopefully lead to techniques for facilitating it."

The Journal Psychological Science is published by the Association for Psychological Science (previously known as the American Psychological Society) and is ranked among the top 10 general psychology journals for impact by the Institute for Scientific Information.


Electrodes Tag The Brain's Response to Mozart

Mozart and Dr. Seuss provided the inspiration as researchers measured the emotional responses of a Boston Symphony Orchestra performance.

Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart, five members of the orchestra, and 50 audience members were the guinea pigs _ wired with sensors as researchers stationed at two banks of computers backstage collected data about heart rates, muscle movement, and other physiological responses.

"Science has come an awful long way in the last 250 years," Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart told a Symphony Hall audience of about 2,000 parents and young children during a family concert.

The concert consisted of four Mozart pieces, including the Overture to "The Marriage of Figaro" _ celebrating the 250th anniversary of the composer's birth _ followed by two Seuss interpretations, including "Green Eggs and Ham."

Among researchers' questions: Do orchestra and audience members have strong physiological responses, as they suspect, to the conductor's thrusts and dramatic head tosses? Is there much difference between responses at a live show compared to watching on television, as a control group will do later?

"We want a window into the brain," said research director Daniel J. Levitin, a cognitive neuroscientist at McGill University in Montreal. "We want to understand more about how the brain works.

"If the conductor is conveying excitement, we expect to see that in the musicians, and a second or two later in the audience," Levitin continued. "Of course, we might not. It might be that the musicians are not conveying what we think they are. Is the audience taking from this what we think they are?"

Researchers, who will analyze the data over the next few months, say their results may eventually help doctors treat victims of strokes or Alzheimer's disease.

Lockhart, the guest conductor, wore a tight-fitting shirt with electrodes snaking all over his upper body. The sensor on his right wrist popped out of place early in the performance, forcing technicians to reattach it.

Lockhart said the loose sensor was a distraction, but not a deterrent. He's looking forward to being wired up during more challenging pieces.

"A Puccini opera ... something that takes peoples' breath away," Lockhart said. "I'm proud of everything we do, but some music is intended to take you out on a limb, and some music is a little more balanced. People generally don't have incredibly tragic responses to Dr. Seuss, so you're not going to get the full gamut of emotional range."

Overall, he said it was "a good way to start."

Eric Graber, 35, wore a sensor, as did his wife, Lara, and their young son, Sebastian. He agreed that researchers may not get the best results from a family concert.

"One hundred percent of your emotions are not going to be engaged with the music," said Graber, a financial services professional from Boston. "You're also going to be engaged with your children."

Graber thinks there is plenty of room for additional research.

"I'd be curious how any medium affects your emotions, how you react to what's around you," he said. "Classical music is a nice start. There's plenty of room for experimentation."


Games for Health at E3

This is quite interesting...

The Games for Health Project, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, TATRC, and USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Institute for Creative Technologies have announced Games for Health Day, a day-long event to take place May 9, 2006 in Los Angeles.

Helathcare professionals, researchers, and game developers will converge on the Davidson Executive Conference Center for the event, which occurs in parallel to the opening day of the Electronic Entertainment Expo. The event which will focus on the use of video games and related technologies in health and healthcare, and will feature talks by professionals in these fields on topics such as cancer treatment, health messaging using games, cognitive health, and more. The day will be capped off with an evening reception.

Games for Health Day is free for USC faculty & students, grantees of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and researchers who have TATRC-sponsored or partnered projects. To register for the event visit the Acteva online ticketing site.

source: Gamasutra


Linguists Brains are Different

Different Shape and Volume of White Matter Distinguishes People with
Linguistic Ability from Others

Linguists 'have different brains'

The French and Hindi 'd' sounds were played to participants

Gifted linguists could have a different brain shape and structure from those of other people, a study suggests. Neuroscientists at University College London say they have more "white brain matter" in a part of the brain which processes sound.

Their brains could also be less symmetrical than others.

It is hoped the research, published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, could be used help to identify reasons for language difficulties.

Those involved in the trial - all native French speakers - were asked to distinguish between two similar sounds from different languages. The first was the "d" sound found in their own language which is made by placing the tip of the tongue against the top teeth. The second was a "d" found in Hindi, which is pronounced by curling the tongue upwards towards the roof of the mouth.

Both types of d were followed by the letter a, so the participants heard "da".
The differences between the sounds are heard in the first 40 milliseconds.
Researchers tested the speed at which participants could process the information.


Virgin Galactic Pitch & Some Controversy

Here is the text of the email we received...it is posted so you can see it. It was sent to people who registered and were willing to put a deposit in or already did.

I noticed this in particular, which closely follows our rocket science section and what we sent to them about 3 months ago on cognitive testing for spaceflight as a recreational and useful activity....a kind of a sales pitch. Well it looks like they liked the idea.

I'd try space escape , asteroids, and the 'space trainer' we have under development...which will be pretty interesting...

So what do you think of the idea of consumer space flight???Let us know.

Global Mash Up for Friends.

This is what geeks call a mash-up. (please click on the image) If you are an RSS subscriber, your'e going to have to come to the site.

It shows everyone who has stopped by. If you looked at the old mini-mash-ups we posted about a month ago, it looks like the word is spreading. A lot more folks in Europe and Asia are tuned in, more in Australasia or "Oceania" or Middle Earth.

You can click on the picture and tell some friends. We'll be giving away a Nintendo DS on May 15th - the DS seems to be edging out PSP as the must-have (though we have both). So the more people you refer to us the better your chance. Games aren't just for kids anymore, and in fact as many scientists suggest, can have benefits.

I got an interesting email newsletter from Virgin Galactic which I'd like to share....that will be coming in a little while.


Alzheimer's Market to Reach $7.8 Billion by 2010

The 'market' for serving individuals with Alzheimer's keeps expanding. Particular promise is laid out for APOE genotyping and new drugs under development. Genotyping can identify those who might be at risk at any stage of their life, far before age 60 or 65.


Alzheimer's disease remains a challenge in management. With nearly 8 million sufferers from this condition in the seven major markets of the world and anticipated increases in the future. Considerable research is in progress to understand the pathomechanism of the disease and find a cure. The only drugs approved currently are acetylcholinesterase inhibitors but they do not correct the basic pathology of the disease, beta amyloid deposits and neurofibrillary tangles. Several new approaches emphasize neuroprotection as well.

Early diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease is an important first step in management. Several biomarkers in cerebrospinal fluid, blood and urine can detect the disease. They provide a valuable aid to the clinical examination and neuropsychological testing which are the main diagnostic methods supplemented by brain imaging. Genotyping, particularly of ApoE gene alleles is also useful in the evaluation of cases and planning management.
The current management of Alzheimer's disease is reviewed and it involves a multidisciplinary approach. Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors are mostly a symptomatic treatment but some claims are made about a neuroprotective effect. Currently the only approved neuroprotective therapy in is memantine. Management of these patients also require neuroleptics for aggressive behavior and antidepressants. There is an emphasis on early detection at the stage of mild cognitive impairment and early institution of neuroprotective measures. The value of mental exercise in delaying the onset of Alzheimer's disease is being recognized.

Research in Alzheimer's disease still aims at elucidating the basic pathomechanisms. Animal models are important for research, particularly in testing some of the potential therapeutic approaches. There is considerable research in progress at the various centers, some of which is funded by the National Institute of Aging of the National Institutes of Health.

Over 200 different compounds are at various stages of development for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. These are classified and described. There are non-pharmacological approaches such as vagal nerve stimulation and cerebrospinal fluid shunting, which are in clinical trials. Over 104 clinical trials are listed, of which 77 are still in progress and 27 were discontinued for various reasons.

Alzheimer's disease market in the seven major markets is worth $6.1 billion in the year 2005 and will increase to $ 7.8 billion by the year 2010. The share of currently approved drugs specifically for AD is expected to be $3.1 billion in the year 2005 and $4.1 billion by the year 2010 provided all of them stay in the market. Several new therapies are expected to be in the market and the shares of various types of approaches are estimated for the future up to the year 2015. As a background to the markets, pharmacoeconomic aspects of care of Alzheimer's disease patients and patterns of practice are reviewed in the seven major markets


Train Your Brain, Tell A Friend

In the process of banning all pop-ups and openWindows on our site with one swift stroke we retooled the "friends" process. Now, refer some friends and win a Nintendo DS plus a game of your choice (it could be the new BrainAge). This is your chance to invite others to join the group of people concerned with cognitive fitness...


Aging Brains Compensate by Networking and Load Balancing: Yale Researchers

One of two separate areas of the brain light up when younger people look at a house or a face, but each image activates both areas of the brain at the same time in older persons, according to a study published by Yale University and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, this month in NeuroReport.

Although the researchers cannot say for sure, one theory that needs further study is that the extra activity in older adults is probably compensation for age-related changes in brain volume or efficiency, according to Christy Marshuetz, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and a co-author of the study.

The study included a dozen people 18- to 27-years-old, and an equal number of 61- to 80-year-olds. They were asked to remember three images of houses or three images of faces and then asked to decide if another image was from the original set. Functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to track neural changes during these tasks.

Marshuetz said it has been known for some time that there are different regions in the inferior temporal lobes of the brain that respond to faces and to photographs of houses. It is also well established that as humans age, both neural and cognitive function become less differentiated. But the data is sparse and previous studies have examined neural activity only during passive viewing.

In this study, the researchers examined age differences in neural specialization for "faces and places" in a working memory task. They hypothesized that even when consciously remembering specific items, older adults would show decreased specialization in the fusiform face area of the brain and the parahippocampal place area of the brain when compared with younger adults. The researchers also expected, and found, more activity in older adults in the frontal cortex and believe this activity is compensation for less differentiation in the visual cortex at the back of the brain.

"Our findings are the first to demonstrate decreased neural specialization in the ventral visual cortex in older adults, along with increased activations in the prefrontal cortex," Marshuetz said. "This underscores the importance of taking into account the connected and networked nature of the brain and its function in understanding human neural aging."

Co-authors include Doris Payer, Brad Sutton, Andy Hebrank, and Denise Park of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Robert Welsh of the University of Michigan.

Memory TV Update

Thanks to everybody who is using Memory TV and signing up for the service. We are trying to fulfill all the requests, especially adding in nature, history, and images of the world's holy places. On the last one, this is a theme that unites everyone - from the US to the Middle East to Europe, Asia, and India - this we know since we have requests from people in each area and lots of them. Programming demands being what they are, this will be just a matter of time til we can get to it. The site is growing larger and larger every day with more pages and content. I want to see how far we (meaning you) can all take it. Pretty far since we put down the first line of code in summer '04; last year we had a duel role helping to launch brainspeed.com, from Natrol (NTOL) which was the world's first widely-accessible site and software that let users see how they were doing over time in conjunction with an over the counter product. The same concept can be applied to virtually any process or substance; whether it is something nutritional or just the effect of intense cognitive training or physical training.


Game Helps People Confront Cancer

It seems visualizing - which comes with gaming - actually helps people to confront illness.(Hope Lab - Yahoo! News) In this case the subjects are teens and younger adults with cancer, and the game, involving visualizing the effect of nanobots throughout the body, helps them to stick to a treatment regimen and perhaps to use the body and mind's power to fight back against illness.

In the case of Alzheimer's and other dementia's - as well as impairment brought on by illness and injury - depression has been one of the factors associated with dementia and in fact, has been codified in the Geriatric Depression Scale or GDS which was developed by scientists at the Stanford/Palo Alto VA Alzheimer's Center.

Many of you take tests and then follow up with games in a regular regimen, because they are both entertaining and also exercise visual perception, reaction time, and other measures. Also, they are easy to play and understand with no required downloading and don't involve the exact areas of the brain associated with 'shooters.' Some of the more interesting 'flow' casual games which have no specific beginning and end also offer strong promise for remediation and treatment for many individuals.


Only Fools Need Apply

A Test to Determine the non-Fools from the Fools. Or maybe just the 'Less Foolishly Challenged' as we are all more or less Fools.

here's the link-o-rama

In Area 51 today....

Drill down, and here you go...

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