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Mindful : October 2014
mind science cognitive improvements. According to the Illinois team’s description of why this occurs, aerobic exercise spurs neurogenesis (the creation of new brain neurons) and increased production of white matter (which connects neurons) in areas responsible for forethought, planning, and other key executive functions that weaken with age. Since then, study after study of middle-aged and older adults have shown that almost any- thing that gets the blood flow- ing—ma ll wa lking, vigorous sports, da ncing—improves memory and reasoning. The value of braintrain- ing that directly ta rgets functions that decline with age—memory being the obvious, and most popular, example—is less clear. Some of the glowing reviews you can find on company web- sites and even in research journals fail to account for the familiarity effect: If you practice remembering which patterns of tiles you’ve seen before, you improve, partly because you develop tricks. But it remains to be seen whether that carries over into better memory in real life, let alone into improvement in other cognitive functions. Unfortunately, when scien- tists looked at all such studies of one popular program, the claims for cognitive improve- ment were deemed “largely unsubstantiated.” That’s also what the largest study of brain-boost- ing interventions, called ACTIVE (Advanced Cogni- tive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly), found. The 2,832 adults, ages 65 to 94, in this government-sponsored trial received either no training (the control group) or training in reasoning, memory, and processing speed in 10 sessions of 60 to 75 minutes each. Memory training offered strategies like forming mental images or associations: To remember a list of words that includes pigeon, ha mmer, and sofa, for insta nce, visualize the bird smashing the furni- ture with the tool. Reasoning training, such as identifying the pattern in a string of numbers, offered strategies such as breaking a problem into easier steps. In each of these trainings, people got better at what they trained on, but there was essentially no transfer: Getting better at memory did not sharpen reasoning, or vice versa. The speed-of-processing training followed a different pattern, however. ACTIVE used a version of a progra m called Double Decision, created by Posit Science. You spot a ta rget in the middle of the screen while simulta- neously noticing one in the periphery. With practice, the brain detects ta rgets more quickly. It’s not obvious that this would tra nslate into, say, g reater ability to keep track of all the characters a nd shifting allegia nces in Game of Thrones. But while only 25% of the ACTIVE subjects who received memory training showed improvement in over- all cognitive ability, 87% of the speed-of-processing g roup did. Working directly on reversing cognitive deficits may be less effective than indirect approaches— such as exercise and meditation. 28 mindful October 2014 This is a groundbreaking conference devoted entirely to mindful leadership, bringing together leaders and aspiring leaders from all organizational levels and various backgrounds. Learn, develop practical tools, share insights, and connect with a community of people interested in this emerging path of leadership excellence. November 14–16 Washington, DC Conference includes: Talks • Opportunities to Share + Connect Panel discussions • Leadership intensives Contemplative practice • Peer-led roundtables Success stories • Social events Congressman Tim Ryan Author of A Mindful Nation Daniel Goleman Author of Emotional Intelligence and Focus Sharon Salzberg Co-founder of Insight Meditation Society Save up to $300 When You Register By October 3 MindfulLeader.org A Signifcant Moment In the Evolution of Leadership There is an alternative to just leading from the top down. It’s leading from the inside out. Janice Marturano Executive Director of the Institute for Mindful Leadership 25+ Speakers Including: Tara Brach Founder, Insight Meditation Community of Washington Tom Gardner Co-chairman and CEO of Motley Fool Dan Harris Weekend anchor of Good Morning America David Gelles NY Times reporter and author Robert Chender Founder of NY Bar Assn. Contemplative Lawyers Grp. Barbara Krumsiek President and CEO of Calvert Investments Rich Fernandez Co-founder of Wisdom Labs