May 28, 2013 | 1
In the highly salable field of “brain fitness,” there is an awful lot of hype. How can consumers possibly sort the science from the pseudo-science? Thankfully, there are resources such as The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness: How to Optimize Brain Health and Performance at Any Age (284 pages; April 2013).
Co-authored by SharpBrains CEO Alvaro Fernandez and co-founder and Chief Scientific Advisor Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg, this resource is timely and informative. Through a mixture of figures, tables, scientific research, and 20 interviews with leading scientists on the forefront of this rapidly evolving field, this guide helps the everyday reader come to a basic understanding of brain functioning and the lifestyle changes that matter the most for keeping the brain in tip top shape. What I particularly liked is that this book doesn’t read like an infomercial. In fact, the authors explicitly state up front that “we do not prescribe or endorse any specific interventions.” This was important to me because there are too many claims being put out there that are clearly motivated by the goal of selling a particular product.
The authors define brain training as “the structured and efficient use of mental exercises designed to build targeted brain-based networks and capacities. Its aim is to improve specific brain functions, similar to physical conditioning.” According to the authors, society is a human ecosystem with different kinds of minds contributing to the ecosystem. Under this conceptualization, the key to brain training is to develop the specific brain functions required to flourish given a person’s personal goals and specific environment. The authors review a number of important brain functions, including the suite of “executive functions” that are so important for reaching our personal goals in life. These cognitive functions include mental flexibility, perspective taking, anticipation, problem-solving, decision making, working memory, emotional self-regulation, sequencing, and inhibition. The authors make a compelling case that we need to foster the development and maintenance of a wide range of mental functions– not just IQ or memory– in order to reach our personal goals.
There are so many gems in this book, but I thought I’d highlight ten that particularly caught my attention:
On a personal note, I have to say I wish I had read this awesome guide when I was much younger. Even today, students are often led to believe that a bad grade, or difficulty learning material in a particular course, is an indication of low levels of a singular, fixed intelligence. I find the emerging field of neuroplasticity immensely exciting, and guides like this one are both hopeful and reasonable. To be sure, there is no magic pill, and cautious claims are warranted. But at the same time, I find that the latest science paints a much more hopeful picture of the potential for cognitive improvements across a wide range of cognitive functions throughout life than more fixed conceptualizations that are still predominant in society.
© 2013 Scott Barry Kaufman, All Rights Reserved