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Nov 25, 2007

Cognitive enhancement on BMA

The British Medical Association has just released a report on the ethical implications of using medical technology to enhance cognitive function and optimise the brain

Dec 28, 2006

The state of mental-gymnastic

Via the BrainBlog

The New York Times has a front-page article concerning the current state of mental-gymnastic services. From the article:

Science is not sure yet, but across the country, brain health programs are springing up, offering the possibility of a cognitive fountain of youth.

From “brain gyms” on the Internet to “brain-healthy” foods and activities at assisted living centers, the programs are aimed at baby boomers anxious about entering their golden years and at their parents trying to stave off memory loss or dementia.

“This is going to be one of the hottest topics in the next five years — it’s going to be huge,” said Nancy Ceridwyn, co-director of special projects for the American Society on Aging. “The challenge we have is it’s going to be a lot like the anti-aging industry: how much science is there behind this?”


Read the full article

Dec 20, 2006

Top 25 Questions About Brain Fitness

Elkhonon Goldberg, Alvaro Fernandez and Caroline Latham (Sharpbrains) have written Brain Fitness for Sharp Brains: Your New New Year Resolution, an introductory guide to the concept, science, and practice of brain fitness

A free copy of the report can be ordered here 

Positive effects of cognitive training on daily function and cognitive abilities

Via Smart Mobs 

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has published a study entitled "Long-term Effects of Cognitive Training on Everyday Functional Outcomes in Older Adults" that shows the positive effects of cognitive training on daily function and cognitive abilities.

Authors: Sherry L. Willis, PhD; Sharon L. Tennstedt, PhD; Michael Marsiske, PhD; Karlene Ball, PhD; Jeffrey Elias, PhD; Kathy Mann Koepke, PhD; John N. Morris, PhD; George W. Rebok, PhD; Frederick W. Unverzagt, PhD; Anne M. Stoddard, ScD; Elizabeth Wright, PhD.

JAMA. 2006;296:2805-2814.

Context. Cognitive training has been shown to improve cognitive abilities in older adults but the effects of cognitive training on everyday function have not been demonstrated.  Objective. To determine the effects of cognitive training on daily function and durability of training on cognitive abilities. Design, Setting, and Participants. Five-year follow-up of a randomized controlled single-blind trial with 4 treatment groups. A volunteer sample of 2832 persons (mean age, 73.6 years; 26% black), living independently in 6 US cities, was recruited from senior housing, community centers, and hospitals and clinics. The study was conducted between April 1998 and December 2004. Five-year follow-up was completed in 67% of the sample. Interventions. Ten-session training for memory (verbal episodic memory), reasoning (inductive reasoning), or speed of processing (visual search and identification); 4-session booster training at 11 and 35 months after training in a random sample of those who completed training. Main Outcome Measures. Self-reported and performance-based measures of daily function and cognitive abilities. Results. The reasoning group reported significantly less difficulty in the instrumental activities of daily living (IADL) than the control group (effect size, 0.29; 99% confidence interval [CI], 0.03-0.55). Neither speed of processing training (effect size, 0.26; 99% CI, –0.002 to 0.51) nor memory training (effect size, 0.20; 99% CI, –0.06 to 0.46) had a significant effect on IADL. The booster training for the speed of processing group, but not for the other 2 groups, showed a significant effect on the performance-based functional measure of everyday speed of processing (effect size, 0.30; 99% CI, 0.08-0.52). No booster effects were seen for any of the groups for everyday problem-solving or self-reported difficulty in IADL. Each intervention maintained effects on its specific targeted cognitive ability through 5 years (memory: effect size, 0.23 [99% CI, 0.11-0.35]; reasoning: effect size, 0.26 [99% CI, 0.17-0.35]; speed of processing: effect size, 0.76 [99% CI, 0.62-0.90]). Booster training produced additional improvement with the reasoning intervention for reasoning performance (effect size, 0.28; 99% CI, 0.12-0.43) and the speed of processing intervention for speed of processing performance (effect size, 0.85; 99% CI, 0.61-1.09). Conclusions. Reasoning training resulted in less functional decline in self-reported IADL. Compared with the control group, cognitive training resulted in improved cognitive abilities specific to the abilities trained that continued 5 years after the initiation of the intervention.

Link to full-text article

Link to Washington Post report about the study

Dec 15, 2006

Neuroenhancement technology: an ethical analysis


Belgian government funds researcher to study neuroenhancement:

‘Neuroenhancement technology: an ethical analysis and study of the conditions for research and clinical trials.’

A project funded by the Flemish Fund for Scientific Research (G.0048.07) 01/01/2007-31/12/2010.

Aim and objectives:

The emergence of new treatments which have the capacity to profoundly alter or influence mood and cognition is considered by some as one of the most promising as well as most challenging developments of the 21st century within the life sciences (Wolp, 2002). Aside of other socially relevant aspects of current neuroscience (e.g. ‘brain reading’ ) and its technological tools (e.g. fMRI, TMS, PET), it is in particular the discussions regarding ethical and social implications of neuroenhancement technology which are giving rise to the gradual development of ‘neuroethics’. Some of the most pertinent concerns which shape this emerging domain include questions as to how this technology relates to the general goals of medicine and what the conditions for research and clinical trials should be. While the need for a thorough exploraiton of the social and ethical implications of enhancement technology is generally well acknowledged, scarce attention has gone out to the question if and under what conditions such research should be supported.

The aims of the research proposal are the following:

(1) to provide an overview of the current developments and results within neuroenhancement technology;

(2) to obtain thorough insight in the academic, social and policy debates surrounding these developments;

(3) to conduct a conceptual analysis of the conflict between ‘normal’, ‘healthy’ mental functioning and ‘enhanced’ functioning, both in terms of strictly medical as well as medical ethical standards;

(4) to conduct a comparative, medical ethical study of the conditions for acceptance of this and other forms of enhancement technology; and

(5) to apply the results obtained from the analyses to the current context of neuroenhancement technology.

Nov 06, 2006

Boosting slow oscillations during sleep potentiates memory

Via The Neurophilosopher 

Boosting slow oscillations during sleep potentiates memory

Nature advance online publication 5 November 2006

Authors: Lisa Marshall, Halla Helgadóttir, Matthias Mölle and Jan Born

There is compelling evidence that sleep contributes to the long-term consolidation of new memories. This function of sleep has been linked to slow (<1 Hz) potential oscillations, which predominantly arise from the prefrontal neocortex and characterize slow wave sleep. However, oscillations in brain potentials are commonly considered to be mere epiphenomena that reflect synchronized activity arising from neuronal networks, which links the membrane and synaptic processes of these neurons in time. Whether brain potentials and their extracellular equivalent have any physiological meaning per se is unclear, but can easily be investigated by inducing the extracellular oscillating potential fields of interest. Here we show that inducing slow oscillation-like potential fields by transcranial application of oscillating potentials (0.75 Hz) during early nocturnal non-rapid-eye-movement sleep, that is, a period of emerging slow wave sleep, enhances the retention of hippocampus-dependent declarative memories in healthy humans. The slowly oscillating potential stimulation induced an immediate increase in slow wave sleep, endogenous cortical slow oscillations and slow spindle activity in the frontal cortex. Brain stimulation with oscillations at 5 Hz—another frequency band that normally predominates during rapid-eye-movement sleep—decreased slow oscillations and left declarative memory unchanged. Our findings indicate that endogenous slow potential oscillations have a causal role in the sleep-associated consolidation of memory, and that this role is enhanced by field effects in cortical extracellular space.

Oct 26, 2006

'Tower of Babel' translator made

Re-blogged from KurzweilAI.net

A new device being created by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University uses electrodes attached to the neck and face to detect the movements that occur as a person silently mouths words and phrases.

Using this data, a computer can work out the sounds being formed and then build these sounds up into words. The system is then able to translate the words into another language, which is read out by a synthetic voice.

Read the full story

Cognitive Enhancement: Methods, Ethics, Regulatory Challenges


Have a look at this very interesting article entitled "Cognitive Enhancement: Methods, Ethics, Regulatory Challenges" written by Nick Bostrom and Anders Sandberg. It focuses on the current state of the art in cognitive enhancement methods and consider their prospects for the near-term future. Authors also review some of ethical issues arising from these technologies.