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Cognitive training helps regain a younger-working brain (sciencedaily.com)
180 points by prostoalex on Feb 4, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 32 comments

It is critical to note that this study does not address the transfer of learning or performance on one task and show that it improves performance (or in this case, energy efficienty) on any other task.

Put another way: lumosity makes you good and efficient at lumosity, but not anything else.

Transfer learning is a bugbear for neuroscientists as well as ML people, sadly.

Totally anecdotal story, but from my own experience, I agree with you completely.

I was using one of the leading 'brain training' apps, and they started requiring a subscription so I switched to another app. Despite having a strong performance in the first app, I had quite a weak performance initially in the second app.

In other words, skills aren't even transferable between brain-training apps, let alone into real life applications.

Parent is highly informed re: transfer. Another 'bugaboo' of cognitive training is the opportunity cost of training. For example, instead of cog training, use the time to get cardiovascular exercise, which has proven and robust benefits for cognition.

Isn't that exactly what the experiment did? They divided subjects to 3 groups: 1 with cognitive training, 1 without anything in particular (wait list), and 1 with physical exercise.

I hadn't realized because I only stopped in to reply to the grandparent's post, but that is fantastic! A really excellent active baseline.

Baseline for activity is too low - 30 minutes five days a week.

To prevent brain tissue loss one should walk 35km per week, it is one hour daily. And that amount is to stop decline of mental capabilities, one need to increase that amount of exercise or add fasting or weight training to start to regain "younger" brain.

So I am not impressed.

I can't access the study text, but if anyone can could you check if the task they used to measure results was really the same task that they trained the participants on? It seems like thats an obvious flaw that they would have thought of.

Is there any kind of learning that improves performance on other tasks? (What about language? What about if the 'other tasks' include learning?)

There is some preliminary evidence that a training task called "dual n-back" may improve working memory performance. Good working memory is beneficial for a wide variety of cognitive tasks.


Learning to play an instrument and play music and learning a foreign language are both supposed to be quite good for you, mentally speaking.

There is some evidence that meditation can improve cognitive performance.

I was actually just looking for scholarly research on this subject, link?

If you dig around, you'll find a lot of studies that are focused on a particular outcome (e.g. effects of mindfulness on the Stroop test, effects of mindfulness on athletic performance.) The quality of these studies is, of course, all over the place. Most of the research seems to come from journals dedicated to mindfulness in some capacity. For example, would you trust a study done by PhDs at reputable universities if they published in "The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine"[0]?

The best research I ever found was a metastudy in Clinical Psychology Review: "Does mindfulness training improve cognitive abilities? A systematic review of neuropsychological findings"[1] concludes that there's enough evidence that further investigation is warranted.

There's also a lot of downstream research (citing articles) from both publications that are worth investigating.

Transferability though, is still an open question. Even in this meta study, the author's admit that certain types of mindfulness training may be beneficial to certain outcomes.

So perhaps you'll be more mindful and less distracted, but you won't be any "smarter."

[0]: http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/acm.2007.7022 [1]: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S027273581...

So does the same type of thing apply to tech-interviews vs actual on job problem solving capabilities?

It's the problem of studying for the test vs studying to learn. Some knowledge will transfer, but the further the test is removed from reality, the lesser the transferable knowledge will be. When I look back at the interviews I had and what I actually needed to know at work, the difference is massive.

One important way that all tests are removed from reality is that the direct motivation for solving the test problem is to score well on the test rather than to understand the problem better. In real life we are sometimes motivated by factors such as curiosity or survival which marshalls our internal resources more helpfully.

(And maybe evolution gave us curiosity to save on battery power with the new knowledge it produced!)

> In a randomized clinical study involving adults age 56 to 71, researchers found that after cognitive training, participants' brains were more energy efficient, meaning their brain did not have to work as hard to perform a task.

So if you play a game over and over, you don't have to actively think as hard to play it? A bit far from a "younger working brain"

If I understand correctly from the abstract, the task they measured was done inside an MRI scanner, and was a different task from the training games. I know that it's been a question for a while now whether any of this training transfers to anything else, so it makes sense that that's what they would be studying.

Would have been nice if they went more into the actual training, all I see is "The cognitive training utilized the Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training (SMART) program developed at the Center for BrainHealth" but they don't go on to say exactly what that program entails.

I think they are referring to this app: https://brainhealth.utdallas.edu/brainhealth-app/

I downloaded the app in the hope of getting back my fizz from my 20s .... but it just seems to be a timer.

Color me skeptical until someone evaluates these claims who was not involved with coming up with the training program in question.

brain training as such has been widely debunked by working neuroscientists, those without a personal stake in brain training products

tldr: you improve on the tasks you train on, but generalization to other tasks is extremely limited at best

I was contemplating getting an MRI scan of my brain before I went to college. At age 48 I can only assume it is good for my brain to stress it learning something useful.

This isn't my first time going to school old. At age 34 I started University but for various reasons dropped out early.

I have to say going to school now even compared to age 34 just 14 years ago is quite different socially and technologically.

Maybe my brain will benefit from all this learning.

DOI: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2017.10.003

And another paper showing playing 3d video games causes brain matter to increase (or at least not deteriorate) in older people: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal....


I'd be interested in a study where an additional group replaced games/music with walking outside in the natural environment for 1 hr a day. Or since we know "exercise" increases brain mass, what specifically about exercise causes the response. Are the effects additive? Can we exercise, play music and video games for more than 1x the matter growth?




For those who come directly to the comments for the paper link: http://www.neurobiologyofaging.org/article/S0197-4580(17)303...

Its worth noting that, from a brief look, the "cognitive training" program looks like a fairly intensive and detailed course, not some brain-app-like game. I don't know if I've seen something similar offered commercially.

What sort of cognitive tasks would aid this? Something like Lumosity?

They were referring to this "SMART" app by the Center for BrainHealth, but I'd be a bit dubious about the actual result here (see above postings, which has been a debate for a long time):


...on the other hand It can't (really) hurt much, and the mind is a weird thing :)

Thanks. Seems like it's only an iOS app.

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