brain-trainingAs Todd Essig reports at Forbes, despite $1.3 billion that Americans spend on brain training games, a group of almost 100 leading brain scientists recently published a document that they’ve called “A Consensus on the Brain Training Industry from the Scientific Community.”

Their main finding is that brain training games may improve your gaming skills, but not your IQ. In other words, the skills that these games improve do not transfer broadly to other skills. And to the extent that they do transfer at all, they certainly do not transfer to boosting general intelligence.

As the signatories write: “The strong consensus of this group is that the scientific literature does not support claims that the use of software-based ‘brain games’ alters neural functioning in ways that improve general cognitive performance in everyday life, or prevent cognitive slowing and brain disease.”

That may mean more bad news for the brain training business, but evidence for the benefits of brain zapping (e.g. tDCS) continues to accumulate, with now even CNN doing an obligatory article about it.

 

molding-iqMore evidence from Florida State University’s Kevin Beaver that parents do not and indeed cannot influence their children’s IQ levels.

As FSU ‘s news site reports, activities like reading bedtime stories and eating nightly dinners together can indeed help to enhance kids’ social skills. But alas, they do not “have any detectable influence on children’s intelligence later in life.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean that how parents choose to raise their children is meaningless. But, as Beaver told the FSU news site, “the way you parent a child is not going to have a detectable effect on their IQ as long as that parenting is within normal bounds.”

As the research paper itself says, “the results of these statistical models indicate that family and parenting characteristics are not significant contributors to variation in IQ scores.”

This isn’t exactly news; author and researcher Judith Rich Harris drew the much same conclusion in her 1998 classic “The Nurture Assumption“.

tdcs-alzheimersThe benefits of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) continue to expand. In addition to the well-known cognitive enhancing effects, recent research has also shown that tDCS can help with depression, schizophrenia, weight loss, and much more.

Now a new study just published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience shows that tDCS also improves cognition in Alzheimer’s patients [update: full PDF available here].

A group of 34 patients suffering from Alzheimer’s were given a daily treatment of tDCS for 25 minutes, over a period of ten days. Some received “real” tDCS, while others were given a sham version for control purposes.

The patients’ IQs were also tested at the beginning of the treatment, and then again one and two months after the end of the sessions.

There were “significant” improvements in the IQ scores of patients who underwent the real tDCS treatment, and no such improvements in the sham group.

The researchers concluded that repeated sessions of tDCS can improve cognitive function. In the near future, electrical stimulation of this kind may largely replace the need for traditional medicine to treat conditions such as Alzheimer’s. In fact, the latest issue of Scientific American Mind has an article about that very topic.

 

non-invasive-tdcsAre popular forms of electrical brain stimulation like tDCS and tACS really as “non-invasive” as they’re often claimed to be?

In a study published in December Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, Nick Davis and Martijn van Koningsbruggen suggest that using the term “non-invasive” to describe interventions like tDCS is “inappropriate and perhaps oxymoronic,” as it obscures the possible side-effects and long-term effects that brain stimulation might lead to.

“We argue that the traditional definition of an invasive procedure, one which requires an incision or insertion in the body, should be re-examined.”

Davis and Van Koningsbruggen suggest that the term “non-invasive brain stimulation” might lead some non-expert users of electrical brain stimulation to believe “that the effect of the technique is necessarily mild.”

Gamma-knife radiotherapy, they write, “is also ‘non-invasive’ in the sense that no incisions or insertions are made in the person…”

They also remind researchers to “be mindful that in a climate of wide and open dissemination of scientific results, exciting, and beneficial results will reach well beyond the labs and clinics,” for example here and here.

 

 

kindergarten-boosts-iqA new study (PDF) conducted by researchers at Iran’s Kermanshah University of Medical Sciences has found that kindergarten boosts IQ by about three points.

The researchers first controlled for factors such as socioeconomic background and parental education. The study excluded children with mental disorders or other factors that might impair their cognitive skills.

The (smallish) sample of consisted of 60 children; 30 had been to kindergarten, and 30 had not. Based on the results of the WISC–III IQ test, the kindergarten group had a mean IQ of 101, compared to a mean of 98 in the second group.

“This suggests that preschool training programs may improve IQ in children,” write the authors. This is consistent with previous studies showing that “kindergarten training has positive influences on children’s intellectual performance.”

“Studies describe the genes as being in a dynamic relationship with environmental influences that can turn a gene on or off, affecting the brain’s development,” they write. “Therefore kindergarten training as an environmental factor may interact with genes to determine the intellectual function of children.”