Tag Archives: brain

Good News Monday: The Pen IS Mightier

Of course, writers intuitively know this.

Handwriting leads to faster learning than typing or watching videos

StudyFinds.com

by John Anderer

Photo by Sarah Chai on Pexels.com

BALTIMORE, Md. — Taking notes with a plain old pen and paper is becoming more antiquated by the day. However, a new study finds handwriting is actually the superior learning option, beating out both typing and watching videos when it comes to quickly picking up new information. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University report that handwriting is “surprisingly faster and significantly better” for learning certain skills.

“The question out there for parents and educators is why should our kids spend any time doing handwriting,” says senior author Brenda Rapp, a Johns Hopkins professor of cognitive science, in a university release. “Obviously, you’re going to be a better hand-writer if you practice it. But since people are handwriting less then maybe who cares? The real question is: Are there other benefits to handwriting that have to do with reading and spelling and understanding? We find there most definitely are.”

Pen and paper triples learning speed?

A group of 42 participants took part in the study. Researchers taught each person the Arabic alphabet after separating them into three learning groups: pen and paper, typing, and video watching. After all participants had been “introduced” to an Arabic letter via a short video, subjects had to attempt to absorb the new information according to their assigned learning group. The typing group had to find the letter they just saw on a keyboard. The video group saw an on-screen flash of a letter and had to answer if it was the same letter they had just seen. The handwriting group had to copy the letter with pen and paper.

By the time participants across all three groups had finished six “learning sessions,” pretty much everyone was able to recognize the letters. However, the writing group reached this level much faster than the other two groups, after an average of just two learning sessions.

Next, study authors set out to see if any of the groups could “generalize” their new knowledge. In simpler terms, while it’s great that they could identify the Arabic letters they had just learned, could they actually use them to write, spell new words, and recognize unfamiliar words? The writing group excelled in all three of those categories to a much larger degree than either the typing or watching groups.

“The main lesson is that even though they were all good at recognizing letters, the writing training was the best at every other measure. And they required less time to get there,” explains lead author Robert Wiley, a former Johns Hopkins University Ph.D. student who is now a professor at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.

Ultimately, the handwriting group showed far more of the skills necessary for expert adult-level Arabic reading and spelling.

Why do our brains react so well to paper?

As far as why handwriting is a cut above when it comes to learning, study authors believe it is because writing reinforces both visual and aural lessons. More specifically, they say that the very act of writing something down creates a “perceptual-motor experience” that fosters “richer knowledge and fuller, true learning.”

“With writing, you’re getting a stronger representation in your mind that lets you scaffold toward these other types of tasks that don’t in any way involve handwriting,” Wiley adds.

While these findings involved only adults, researchers are confident their work applies to children as well.

“I have three nieces and a nephew right now and my siblings ask me should we get them crayons and pens? I say yes, let them just play with the letters and start writing them and write them all the time,” Wiley concludes.

The study appears in the journal Psychological Science.

Good News Monday: Promising Research on Staying Sharp

From Studyfinds.com

Memory, dementia
(© pathdoc – stock.adobe.com)

Anti-aging protein discovered in blood prevents mental decline

JUNE 20, 2021by Chris Melore

HOUSTON, Texas — Anti-aging treatments are a popular field of study these days, as more and more people are living into their 70s and 80s. However, a new study reveals the answer to preventing cognitive decline as we age may have been sitting in our blood all along. Researchers have discovered a protein in red blood cells which has the power to prevent memory loss and other age-related issues in the brain.

Tests in mice find that removing the protein adenosine receptor A2B (ADORA2B) from red blood cells triggers faster declines in memory, the ability to recognize sounds, and leads to higher levels of inflammation in the brain.

ADORA2B helps deliver oxygen to keep us young

It’s no secret that as the human body ages, people begin to slow down. With more people reaching old age in modern times, more people are developing age-related diseases like dementia. Study authors explain that the amount of oxygen in the blood also declines as people age.

They add that ADORA2B, a protein on the membrane of red blood cells, helps to release oxygen so the rest of the body can use it. With that in mind, an international team set out to see how large of a role ADORA2B plays in keeping the brain youthful and active.

Researchers engineered a group of mice which lack ADORA2B in their blood. They compared these animals to normal mice, examining their mental decline as they got older. Results reveal all of the typical signs of cognitive decline — poor memory, hearing problems, and brain inflammation — were worse in mice lacking ADORA2B protein.

Moreover, after experiencing a lack of oxygen throughout their bodies, study authors discovered that behavioral and physiological trauma to mice without the anti-aging protein was more severe than in normal mice. Due to these findings, scientists conclude that ADORA2B slows the natural aging of the brain by delivering oxygen vital to its normal functioning.

“Red blood cells have an irreplaceable function to deliver oxygen to maintain bioenergetics of every single cell within our body. However, their function in age-related cognition and hearing function remains largely unknown. Our findings reveal that the red blood cell ADORA2B signaling cascade combats early onset of age-related decline in cognition, memory and hearing by promoting oxygen delivery in mice and immediately highlight multiple new rejuvenating targets,” says study author Dr. Yang Xia from the University of Texas McGovern Medical School in a media release.

The team published their findings in the journal PLOS Biology.

Good News Monday: Something In Common

In recent years, our little community has sadly become increasingly polarized, what with strongly-held opinions on such crises as “LollipopGate” (did the former head of the vegetation committee instruct landscapers to trim certain trees in unnatural shapes?),”GateGate” (did the front gate close on a neighbor’s car through malfunction, or was this an error on the part of the driver?),”PoopGate” (did a neighbor deliberately not pick up after their pet, or did the outraged complainant mistake a clump of mud for dog poop?), and “SnoopGate” (did a neighbor repairing storm-related damage to his home knowingly violate The Rules? And could the “concerned party” have asked the owner directly about his repairs? Or — gasp — maybe offered to help rather than contacting the Powers-That-Be as a first resort?) Deep breath.

There seems to be no shortage of time for people to complain, yet little interest in listening to the other side. And it’s all gotten notably worse since the last US election, with the endless repetition of bs about “stolen” votes. I swear we have grooves in our roads from everyone digging in their heels!

So it was with great interest that I read the following piece on studyfinds.org. Perhaps there’s reason to be hopeful after all.

U.S. Politics - Democrats and Republicans, donkey and elephant on flag
(© Victor Moussa – stock.adobe.com)

(© Victor Moussa – stock.adobe.com)

Political polarization study finds liberal and conservative brains have one thing in common

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — There seems to be no end in sight to the political divide splitting America in two right now. While political polarization is not a new phenomenon, researchers say they still know very little about what causes people to see the world through an ideological bias. Now, a team from Brown University reveals liberals and conservatives actually do share some common ground — they all hate uncertainty.

Their study finds the brains of “political partisans” on both sides of the spectrum show an inability to tolerate uncertainty. These individuals also have a need to hold onto predictable beliefs about the world they live in.

Examining a group of liberals and conservatives, researchers discovered watching politically inflammatory debates or news coverage exacerbates each person’s intolerance of the unknown. Liberals began to display more liberal thinking and conservatives moved further to the conservative side. Despite their ideological differences, the team finds the same brain mechanics are driving this behavior.

“This is the first research we know of that has linked intolerance to uncertainty to political polarization on both sides of the aisle,” says study co-author Oriel FeldmanHall, an assistant professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences at Brown, in a university release. “So whether a person in 2016 was a strongly committed Trump supporter or a strongly committed Clinton supporter, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that an aversion to uncertainty only exacerbates how similarly two conservative brains or two liberal brains respond when consuming political content.”

Political views not to blame for polarized society?

Study authors used fMRI scans to measure brain activity while participants watched three different programs. The 22 conservatives and 22 liberals viewed a neutrally-worded news report on the very polarizing topic of abortion, a fiery political debate segment, and a completely non-political nature show.

After seeing the videos, participants answered questions gauging their understanding and opinions of the different segments. They also completed political and cognitive surveys measuring their intolerance of uncertainty. According to study co-author Jeroen van Baar, the results show political polarization is less about what people think and more about how their brains cope with the world around them.

“We found that polarized perception — ideologically warped perceptions of the same reality — was strongest in people with the lowest tolerance for uncertainty in general,” says van Baar, a former Brown researcher now at Trimbos, the Netherlands Institute of Mental Health and Addiction. “This shows that some of the animosity and misunderstanding we see in society is not due to irreconcilable differences in political beliefs, but instead depends on surprising — and potentially solvable — factors such as the uncertainty people experience in daily life.”

“We used relatively new methods to look at whether a trait like intolerance of uncertainty exacerbates polarization, and to examine if individual differences in patterns of brain activity synchronize to other individuals that hold like-minded beliefs,” FeldmanHall adds.

Birds of a (political) feather flock together

The study also reveals brain activity and neural responses in partisans diverge between liberals and conservatives. Researchers say these differences reflect each side’s subjective interpretation of the content they’re viewing. People who strongly identify as liberals processed political videos in a very similar way to other liberals in the study; a trait called neural synchrony. Study authors discovered the same thing when examining the brains of conservatives.

“If you are a politically polarized person, your brain syncs up with like-minded individuals in your party to perceive political information in the same way,” FeldmanHall explains.

The results also show people displaying a higher level of intolerance for uncertainty are more sensitive to politically polarizing content. Surprisingly, the news report on abortion with a completely neutral tone did not exacerbate the group’s polarized perceptions.

“This suggests that aversion to uncertainty governs how the brain processes political information to form black-and-white interpretations of inflammatory political content,” the researchers explain.

“This is key because it implies that ‘liberal and conservative brains’ are not just different in some stable way, like brain structure or basic functioning, as other researchers have claimed, but instead that ideological differences in brain processes arise from exposure to very particular polarizing material,” van Baar concludes. “This suggests that political partisans may be able to see eye to eye — provided we find the right way to communicate.”

The study appears in the journal PNAS

Good News Monday: Housework = Brain Work

According to the study below. So if you sit on your butt while your partner does the housework, here’s good reason to think twice!

old person cleaning chores
(Credit: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels)

Doing household chores can actually give you a bigger brain

StudyFinds.com

TORONTO, Ontario — Have you been putting off your spring cleaning or just saving some tedious chores for a rainy day? A new study may provide the motivation you need, especially for seniors. Researchers in Toronto find older adults who perform household chores have larger brains — a key measure of good cognitive health.

“Scientists already know that exercise has a positive impact on the brain, but our study is the first to show that the same may be true for household chores,” says Noah Koblinsky, lead author of the study, Exercise Physiologist and Project Coordinator at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute (RRI) in a media release.

“Understanding how different forms of physical activity contribute to brain health is crucial for developing strategies to reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia in older adults.”

Researchers at Baycrest Hospital examined 66 mentally healthy older adults during their study. Each participant took part in three assessments, a health evaluation, structural brain imaging, and a cognitive test. Results reveal older people who spend more time doing chores have greater brain volume, regardless of how much they exercise. These chores ranged from cleaning, to cooking, to going outside and working in the yard.

How do chores keep the brain healthy?

Although most people probably aren’t fond of doing chores, the team finds they’re likely helping the brain in several ways. First, study authors believe chores have a similar effect as low-intensity aerobic exercise — which benefits the heart and blood vessels.

Chores also push the mind to plan and organize, which promotes the formation of new neural connections over time. Lastly, researchers say chores help older adults become less sedentary. Previous studies have revealed how sitting and being less active can lead to poor health and cognitive decline.

“Besides helping to guide physical activity recommendations for older adults, these findings may also motivate them to be more active, since household chores are a natural and often necessary aspect of many people’s daily lives, and therefore appear more attainable,” says senior author Dr. Nicole Anderson, Senior Scientist at the RRI.

The study appears in the journal BMC Geriatrics.

Good News Monday: Something Writers Always Suspected

writing paper
(Credit: Karolina Grabowska from Pexels)

(From Studyfinds.org)

Writing on paper triggers more brain activity than using a tablet or smartphone

by Chris Melore

TOKYO, Japan — As digital devices become an everyday part of society, many probably view a pen and paper as things of the past. Despite the ease of tapping information into a smartphone or tablet, a new study finds you may want to keep those paper notebooks after all. Researchers in Tokyo have discovered that people writing notes by hand display more brain activity than their peers entering data into an electronic device.

A team from the University of Tokyo adds the unique and tactile information that comes from writing things on paper may also help writers remember the information better.

“Actually, paper is more advanced and useful compared to electronic documents because paper contains more one-of-a-kind information for stronger memory recall,” says corresponding author and neuroscientist Professor Kuniyoshi L. Sakai in a university release.

“Our take-home message is to use paper notebooks for information we need to learn or memorize.”

The pen is mightier than the tablet?

It’s a common belief that digital devices help people complete tasks faster. Despite this, the study finds people writing notes by hand actually finished their task 25 percent quicker than tablet users.

Researchers add that paper notebooks also contain more complex spatial information than a digital screen. Physical paper allows the writer to add tangible permanence to their important information. Writers can also use irregular strokes to convey special meaning and uneven shapes — like a folded corner of a page. Study authors say “digital paper” is much more uniform. There is no fixed position when scrolling and the information disappears from view when users close the app.

What happens to the brain when you write on paper?

The study gathered 48 volunteers to read a fictional conversation between two people talking about their future plans. The discussion included 14 different class times, assignment due dates, and scheduled appointments. Researchers also sorted the participants — all between 18 and 29 years-old from university campuses or the NTT Data Institute of Management Consulting — into three groups, according to memory skills, personal preferences of digital or paper methods, gender, and age.

The groups then recorded the fictional schedules using a paper notebook and pen, a calendar app using a tablet and stylus, or an app on a smartphone using the touch-screen keyboard. The participants did not take extra time to memorize the information after completing the task.

After a one-hour break and an “interference task” to distract the volunteers from thinking about their notes, researchers gave participants a test on the conversation. The multiple choice questions also ranged in difficultly from simple to more complex. Simple questions asked “when is the assignment due?” while others included “which is the earlier due date for the assignments?”

During this test, study authors examined brain activity using functional MRI (fMRI) scans. During this procedure, scientists say increased blood flow in specific brain regions is a sign of higher neuronal activity.

The results reveal young adults using paper completed their note-taking in just 11 minutes. Tablet and smartphone users finished in 14 and 16 minutes, respectively. Volunteers using pen and paper also scored higher on the multiple choice test. However, researchers say the participants’ brain activity reveals even greater differences.

Volunteers using paper displayed more brain activity in areas with a connection to language and imaginary visualization. They also show more activity in the hippocampus, a brain region vital to memory and navigation.

Writing on paper may also be better for kids and creativity

Study authors say the fact that writing on paper triggers activity in the hippocampus shows analog methods contain richer spatial details which make hand-written notes easier to remember.

Digital tools have uniform scrolling up and down and standardized arrangement of text and picture size, like on a webpage. But if you remember a physical textbook printed on paper, you can close your eyes and visualize the photo one-third of the way down on the left-side page, as well as the notes you added in the bottom margin,” Sakai explains.

The team notes that it is possible to personalize digital documents, using highlighting, underlining, circling, and drawing arrows. People who prefer a digital pad can even leave virtual sticky notes that mimic analog-style spatial enrichment.

Although the experiment only included young adults, researchers believe the link between paper writing and brain activity will be even stronger in children.

“High school students’ brains are still developing and are so much more sensitive than adult brains,” Sakai adds.

“It is reasonable that one’s creativity will likely become more fruitful if prior knowledge is stored with stronger learning and more precisely retrieved from memory. For art, composing music, or other creative works, I would emphasize the use of paper instead of digital methods.”

The study appears in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.

Good News Monday: It’s Not You, It’s Your Brain

Unhealthy, processed food, snacks
(© beats_ – stock.adobe.com)

[Reprinted from studyfinds.org]

Our brains may be wired to seek out junk food, scientists say

by Chris Melore

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WAGENINGEN, Netherlands — If you’ve ever snuck into your kitchen for a midnight snack, you probably know exactly where all the sweet and tasty treats are hidden with your eyes closed. Researchers in the Netherlands say this isn’t just about good memory, the human brain may actually be wired to hunt down high-calorie food. Their study finds humans are significantly better at remembering where junk foods are kept than they are with healthier options.

A team from Wageningen University & Research believes the human brain has evolved to focus on memorizing where high-calorie foods are located. Study authors theorize this allowed our hunter-gatherer ancestors to survive in tough environments with few food options.

The study tested 512 participants who were put through a sort of food-memory maze. Researchers had the group follow a fixed route through a room where eight foods or food-scented pads were strategically placed.

As each participant walked through the maze, they either tasted the food or smelled the pads. These tasty options ranged from apples and cucumbers to potato chips and chocolate brownies. The group was also asked to rate how much they like each food they encountered. Researchers then gave the volunteers a surprise quiz on where these snacks were located.

Junk food more appealing to our mind, too

The results reveal the group was 27 percent more accurate at picking the right locations of high-calorie foods than low-calorie options. Participants were even better with food scents, spotting high-calorie pads with 28 percent more accuracy than low-calorie ones.

Researchers report that the results weren’t affected by whether the high-calorie snack was sweet or savory. It also didn’t seem to matter if the participants liked the foods or not. Overall, people were 2.5 times (or 243 percent) better at memorizing where actual food was compared to food-scented pads.

Is there a downside to this skill?

While this ability likely served humans well in the distant past, the study suggests it could lead to problems today. Researchers hint that the memory bias towards high-calorie foods can create dieting issues for many people.

They add that brains which can resist the urge to hunt down sweeter snacks will likely avoid these dieting problems. Researchers are now looking at how the high-calorie memory bias affects present day eating habits.

The study appears in Scientific Reports.

Dementia or Alzheimer’s?

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A few days ago DH and I watched the lovely and touching movie, The Leisure Seeker, which reminded me to share an interesting article.

My parents’ generation used to refer to this health issue as “losing your marbles”, which sounds more charmingly benign than the sad reality of cognitive decline. Whether you’re concerned for yourself, an aging relative, or a friend, I hope you’ll find it informative.

(SHARED FROM AARP)

Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s: Which Is It? How to understand the difference — and why it matters

by Kathleen Fifield, AARP, June 25, 2018 

The terms “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s” have been around for more than a century, which means people have likely been mixing them up for that long, too. But knowing the difference is important. While Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia (accounting for an estimated 60 to 80 percent of cases), there are several other types. The second most common form, vascular dementia, has a very different cause — namely, high blood pressure. Other types of dementia include alcohol-related dementia, Parkinson’s dementia and frontotemporal dementia; each has different causes as well. In addition, certain medical conditions can cause serious memory problems that resemble dementia.

A correct diagnosis means the right medicines, remedies and support. For example, knowing that you have Alzheimer’s instead of another type of dementia might lead to a prescription for a cognition-enhancing drug instead of an antidepressant. Finally, you may be eligible to participate in a clinical trial for Alzheimer’s if you’ve been specifically diagnosed with the disease.

What It Is

Dementia 

In the simplest terms, dementia is a nonreversible decline in mental function.

It is a catchall phrase that encompasses several disorders that cause chronic memory loss, personality changes or impaired reasoning, Alzheimer’s disease being just one of them, says Dan G. Blazer, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center.

To be called dementia, the disorder must be severe enough to interfere with your daily life, says Constantine George Lyketsos, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Memory and Alzheimer’s Treatment Center in Baltimore.

Alzheimer’s

It is a specific disease that slowly and irreversibly destroys memory and thinking skills.

Eventually, Alzheimer’s disease takes away the ability to carry out even the simplest tasks.

A cure for Alzheimer’s remains elusive, although researchers have identified biological evidence of the disease: amyloid plaques and tangles in the brain. You can see them microscopically, or more recently, using a PET scan that employs a newly discovered tracer that binds to the proteins. You can also detect the presence of these proteins in cerebral spinal fluid, but that method isn’t used often in the U.S.

How It’s Diagnosed

Dementia

A doctor must find that you have two or three cognitive areas in decline.

These areas include disorientation, disorganization, language impairment and memory loss. To make that diagnosis, a doctor or neurologist typically administers several mental-skill challenges.

In the Hopkins verbal learning test, for example, you try to memorize then recall a list of 12 words — and a few similar words may be thrown in to challenge you. Another test — also used to evaluate driving skills — has you draw lines to connect a series of numbers and letters in a complicated sequence.

Alzheimer’s 

There’s no definitive test; doctors mostly rely on observation and ruling out other possibilities.

For decades, diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease has been a guessing game based on looking at a person’s symptoms. A firm diagnosis was not possible until an autopsy was performed.

But that so-called guessing game, which is still used today in diagnosing the disease, is accurate between 85 and 90 percent of the time, Lyketsos says. The new PET scan can get you to 95 percent accuracy, but it’s usually recommended only as a way to identify Alzheimer’s in patients who have atypical symptoms.

(Images from Pixabay.com)

Avoiding Brain Drain

In hopes of staving off cognitive decline, I’ve been refreshing my French with the help of the free online language courses on DuoLingo. Next up: brushing up on my minimal Italian (one college semester) in preparation for our trip to Sicily, Milan and Florence in October.flag-2292679_640Younger readers may think this is an issue that only affects their parents or grandparents. Not so fast: apparently the seeds of dementia can be sewn in our 30’s, 40’s and 50’s — up to three decades before the disease appears full-blown. Yowza.

Nearly two-thirds of Alzheimer’s sufferers are women. But the good news is that there’s a lot we can do to protect ourselves – at every age. Reducing inflammation, insulin resistance, blood sugar, high LDL cholesterol and vascular problems lowers our risk, and current research now focuses as much on causes as on cures.

The Big Three: Eating, Exercise and Engagement.

EATING

The Mediterranean Diet won’t just keep you slim; it’s literally brain food. Eating veggies, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry and olive oil boosts brain health. And don’t forget the wine: the resveratrol in red wine has many benefits.

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  • Protects the lining of our arteries so blood can flow freely
  • Improves the body’s ability to repair damage caused by free radicals, which helps prevent premature aging of cells
  • Blocks the production of inflammatory agents

What to avoid? Sugar. Too much can lead to obesity and diabetes, both of which increase the risk of dementia. So swap that margarita for cabernet! And watch your cholesterol: high levels can cause plaque buildup in blood vessels and keep blood from effectively reaching all parts of your brain.

EXERCISE

It’s as good for your brain as it is for your butt.

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  • Aerobic exercise builds up grey matter in the cerebral cortex (where memories live), releases chemicals thought to affect learning and memory, and delivers oxygen to your brain.
  • Regular exercise sharpens focus and stimulates nerve cells and blood vessel formation in the hippocampus, another part of the brain associated with memory. Don’t you love the word hippocampus, which sounds like a university for, you know, hippos? (I threw that in to see if you’re paying attention.) hippo-783522_640
  • Studies have shown that strength training improves blood flow to areas of the brain associated with executive function and memory. So pump that iron!
  • Stress busters such as yoga help reduce cortisol, the fight-or-flight hormone that can go into overdrive, impairing memory and causing neuron-damaging inflammation.

ENGAGEMENT 

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  • Learn something new and keep doing new things (at least an hour each day).
  • Spend time socializing; it helps build new brain cells.
  • Protect your heart (and not just romantically!) The better it pumps, the more blood can circulate throughout your body, nourishing the neurons and blood vessels in your brain.
  • Feeling bored at work or in a social situation? Wiggle your toes — it snaps you back to the moment.
  • Hit the sheets for at least seven hours. The slow-wave stage before REM sleep is thought to be the time when cognitive function strengthens and consolidates.
  • Take time to relax. It lowers blood pressure to help reduce strain on blood vessels.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for my new fitness regimen: lifting several heavy glasses of wine while reading Italian travel guides and researching restaurants. Gotta start someplace, right? Salute e ciao!