Sunday, January 25, 2009

A readable book on brain plasticity

I finally completed reading The Brain That Changes Itself nearly two months after starting it. It seemed like an exciting new area with lots of real life examples and reports of actual research. Some of it seemed too good to be true and sometimes it seemed like a theory which explains everything. I thought that I should take it slowly and started googling some of the reports. Some of my misgivings are similar to those expressed in the review by Ruth Douillette:
"While it’s encouraging to realize that we do in fact have the ability to control and even manipulate brain function, it’s not quite as simple as that. The title suggests that the brain “changes itself.” It would be more accurate to say that the brain can be changed by significant intervention—therapy, self-talk, electronic devices—but left to itself most likely will continue in whatever rut it has settled into. Habits are hard to break.

Michael Merzenich, whom Doidge quotes liberally, has been studying the brain’s plasticity for nearly thirty years, according to his website. Merzenich leads a company, Posit Science, and we learn from Doidge the tremendous benefits he’s brought to his patients. What Doidge doesn’t mention, but a quick Google search discovers, is that Merzenich’s revolutionary program is quite pricey. Doidge stops just short of an infomercial."
The Wikipedia article onFast ForWord indicates that the resuts are not as consistently good as anticipated. But I still think that it is a wonderful book to explore the possibities of the power of the mind. More about brain plasticity here.
It will go on my list for rereading of some other popular science books : Sarah Blaffer Hrdy's "Mother Nature", Dan Gilbert's "Stumbling on Happiness", Matt Ridley's "The Red Queen", Frans de Waal's "Our Inner Ape" and of course Richard Dawkins.


Martin Walker said...

Hello, Anandaswarup.

I am taking my time reading Doidge's book, too. I have found myself frequently amazed by how much has been known and exploited about the brain's plasticity and ability to change its function when these things are entirely unknown to the general public. For that reason alone I applaud Doidge's work in bring these ideas to a wider audience.

I share your concern about the price of Merzenich's products (nearly $400 each).

I started a company last year with the aim of producing the most effective and affordable brain training software available. Our first offering, Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro, uses the training protocol designed by Susanne Jaeggi and Martin Buschkuehl's for their study on Improving Fluid Intelligence by Training Working Memory (PNAS April 2008) which recorded increases in mental agility (fluid intelligence) and short term memory of more than 40% after 19 days of focused brain training. Far more effective than Posit Science's programs.

Martin Walker
Effective, Affordable Brain Training Software

Jason said...

Mr. Walker,

I have been doing research for some time now on brain fitness products. I have looked at CogniFit, Posit Science, Happy Neuron, Lumosity, Dakim and most recently Mind Sparke.

Thorough my research I have found Posit Science to be the most credible. They have the most research/studies associated with the actual product. As opposed to "based on" someone else's study or theory or principle.

I agree with you that the price point with Posit Science is high. Over the last 3 years I have purchased both of Posit Sciences products for my parents. Its a large chunk of change no doubt. I have to say though that it has been more than worth it. My parents are night/day different than before the software. More alert, alive, fresher, sharper. Our weekend discussions are much more unique and animated. They are different people.

I am clearly biased towards Posit Science and for what it has given back to my parents, but I am also open to the idea that other products might be better.

I guess my long winded point about your posting is that it seems a bit dis ingeniousness by saying its "Far more effective than Posit Science's programs". Do you have studies to backup this claim? Have you done any studies with your software? I cant find anything on your website to indicate you have. So, I'm guessing the answer is no.

Martin Walker said...

Hello, Jason.

I appreciate your perspective. My first point was simply that Posit Science is expensive. I've spoken to professionals in the field of rehabilitation who find it cost prohibitive for their clients. I think that's unfortunate.

My second point, too briefly made, was that the research supporting Posit Science points to gains in memory and mental processing that are not as great as the gains produced by the dual n-back training method used in the Jaeggi / Buschkuehl study.

My company's training replicates the Jaeggi / Buschkuehl training. The Posit Science research was in part conducted by people who profit by sales of Posit Science. I completely agree that people should do their own fact finding and reach their own conclusions.

Best wishes,

Adeline said...

I agree with you that the price point with Posit Science is high. Over the last 3 years I have purchased both of Posit Sciences products for my parents. Its a large chunk of change no doubt.
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