It sounds easy. Play some fun computer games, and you can improve your memory. But does brain training work? According to researchers at the University of Oregon, yes - but there's a catch.
There are all kinds of brain-training methods out there, from games to computer software to apps. And many of them work. The problem is the only thing they may help you get better at is playing brain games.
According to Elliot T. Berkman, University of Oregon professor of psychology and lead author on a study published in the January 1 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, the training you do for one particular brain game may not carry over to other challenges.
Berkman and his team did research on proactive shifts in inhibitory control. They did not examine other executive functions, such as working memory. Berkman notes, "With training, the brain activity became linked to specific cues that predicted when inhibitory control might be needed. This explains how brain training improves performance on a given task - and also why the performance boost doesn't generalize beyond that task."
In the study, researchers gave 60 participants, ranging in age from 18 to 30 years old, tasks to measure inhibitory control. Half the participants did tasks to measure "go" and "stop" processes. The faster the "stop" process occurred, the more efficient the participants' inhibitory control. The other half served as the control group.
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For the test, the participants received a "go" signal of an arrow pointing left or right. Then the researchers instructed them to press a corresponding key as quickly as possible. However, in 25% of the instances, a beep sounded, and participants were not to press the button. The beep served as the "stop" process. Participants engaged in the task every other day for three weeks, and those in the trial group showed more improvement than the control group.
The researchers also monitored brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to analyze changes in blood oxygen levels. Activity in the parts of the brain that regulate inhibitory control decreased during the inhibitory control, but increased immediately before it for the control group.
Since brain games may affect only one small aspect of brain function, a smarter approach would be to play these games if you enjoy them, but also support your brain with nutrients like phosphatidylserine and acetyl L-carnitine - nutrients known to improve circulation to the brain and support mental function. These and other brain nutrients can be found in various supplements like Advanced Memory Formula.
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Dr. Janet Zand
Journal of Neuroscience, January 1, 2014.