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Want to ‘train your brain’? Forget apps, learn a musical instrument

The Guardian – Mo Costandi

“The multimillion dollar brain training industry is under attack. In October 2014, a group of over 100 eminent neuroscientists and psychologists wrote an open letter warning that “claims promoting brain games are frequently exaggerated and at times misleading”. Earlier this year, industry giant Lumosity was fined $2m, and ordered to refund thousands of customers who were duped by false claims that the company’s products improve general mental abilities and slow the progression of age-related decline in mental abilities. And a recent review examining studies purporting to show the benefits of such products found “little evidence … that training improves improves everyday cognitive performance”. While brain training games and apps may not live up to their hype, it is well established that certain other activities and lifestyle choices can have neurological benefits that promote overall brain health and may help to keep the mind sharp as we get older. One of these is musical training. Research shows that learning to play a musical instrument is beneficial for children and adults alike, and may even be helpful to patients recovering from brain injuries.”(more)

New Study to Offer Insight into the Adolescent Brain

The Huffington Post – Catherine Y. Spong

“There is a lot we don’t know about the effects of a child’s routine activities—sports, sleep, or screen time—on his or her developing brain. A new long-term study recently launched at 19 research sites around the country and funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will collect significant data on normal, healthy teen behavior and its impact on neurological, social, emotional, and cognitive development. It also will examine some of the unhealthy and risky behaviors indicative of those experimental teenage years.”(more)

Childrens’ decision making—Rules of thumb are learned with time

Medical X-Press – Staff Writer

“Children as young as nine years old use rules of thumb systematically when making decisions. But they are not as good as older children at telling when it is helpful to do so. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and the University of California, Berkeley, have investigated decision-making behavior in children and adolescents. Their findings have been published in Developmental Psychology. Which city has the larger population: Chicago or Akron? If you don’t know, you might base your judgment on which of the two names you recognize. This “recognition heuristic” often leads to astonishingly good results. After all, we are more likely to have read or heard about bigger cities or about more successful athletes, companies, or universities. There has been much research on the strategic use of the recognition heuristic in adults. But developmental psychological research investigating younger people’s use of the heuristic is rare.”(more)

Strengthen Your Memory: Running, Rigorous Exercise After A Study Session May Help Improve Memory Retention

Medical Daily – Dana Dovey

“We all know that running is good for your heart and can help you maintain a healthy weight, but in case you needed one more reason to break out the gym shoes, a new study has shown exercise significantly improves memory retention and could help you ace that final exam. In the study, participants who went for a run after learning performed better in an exam than those who went for a casual walk or who played video games after learning. The researchers believe these results may be due to the physical stress caused by running. Stressful situations can cause our body to release the “stress” hormone cortisol, which may also help with memory retention.”(more)

Early marijuana use associated with abnormal brain function, lower IQ

Science Daily – Staff Writer

“In a new study, scientists in London, Ontario have discovered that early marijuana use may result in abnormal brain function and lower IQ. Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal substance in the world. Previous studies have suggested that frequent marijuana users, especially those who begin at a young age, are at a higher risk for cognitive dysfunction and psychiatric illness, including depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Dr. Elizabeth Osuch, a Scientist at Lawson Health Research Institute and the Dr. Joseph Rea Chair in Mood Disorders at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University, is a Canadian leader in studying both mood and anxiety disorders and the effects of marijuana.”(more)

Math difficulties may reflect problems in a crucial learning system in the brain

Science Daily – Staff Writer

“Children differ substantially in their mathematical abilities. In fact, some children cannot routinely add or subtract, even after extensive schooling. Yet the causes of these problems are not fully understood. Now, two researchers, at Georgetown University Medical Center and Stanford University, have developed a theory of how developmental “math disability” occurs. The article, in a special issue on reading and math in Frontiers in Psychology, proposes that math disability arises from abnormalities in brain areas supporting procedural memory. Procedural memory is a learning and memory system that is crucial for the automatization of non-conscious skills, such as driving or grammar. It depends on a network of brain structures, including the basal ganglia and regions in the frontal and parietal lobes.”(more)