Je flexibele brein: neuroplasticiteit

Lang heeft men gedacht dat intellect en intelligentie aangeboren waren. Dat het brein en hoe dit orgaan zich ontwikkelde al vast gesteld was bij de geboorte. Veel neurologisch onderzoek van de afgelopen tijd heeft echter aangetoond dat het brein zich in de loop van jaren aan kan passen. Iedereen heeft bij de geboorte een soortgelijke brein. Maar iedereen heeft een totaal ander leven en het brein en haar ontwikkeling schijnt zich op basis van dit leven aan te passen. Dit wordt neuroplasticiteit genoemd.

Volgens Dr. Norman Doidge is de ontdekking dat onze brein ‘plastisch’ en aan verandering onderhevig is dé ontdekking van ruim 400 jaar neurologisch onderzoek. Ons brein wordt namelijk beïnvloed door onze zintuiglijke waarnemingen, handelingen en zelfs onze gedachten en verbeeldingen. Het proces van aanpassen gebeurt echter niet meteen, maar daar gaat een lang proces aan vooraf. Maar dát het gebeurt is zeker.

Hoe gaat neuroplasticiteit dan precies in zijn werking? Het brein heeft het vermogen om nieuwe verbindingen tussen neuronen (hersencellen) aan te maken. Hierdoor kan het brein zich reorganiseren. Omdat iedere dag miljoenen neuronen afsterven moet het brein zich wel constant vernieuwen met nieuwe cellen. Neuroplasticiteit is dus een continu proces in je brein. Externe factoren, zoals hoe je leeft, hebben echter wel invloed op de mate en intensiteit van neuroplasticiteit. Zo maakt een kind dat naar school gaat en veel nieuwe dingen leert een heleboel nieuwe cellen aan in hersengebieden zoals taal en rekenvaardigheid.

Neuroplasticiteit

Uit onderzoek is gebleken dat ook bij oudere mensen (50+) steeds weer nieuwe neuronen worden aangemaakt. Het is dus niet zo dat naarmate je ouder wordt er geen nieuwe hersencellen ontstaan. Zelfs senioren maken nog frequent nieuwe hersencellen aan. Neuroplasticiteit is hier de oorzaak van. Het brein bij ouderen zit wat anders in elkaar dan bij jongere mensen omdat de hersenen al meerdere malen zich aangepast hebben aan het leven van de oudere mens. Ook gebruiken senioren hun brein net wat anders. Dat is gemakkelijk te verklaren; alhoewel ook ouderen nieuwe neuronen aanmaken, is dit wel in een mindere mate. Er is wel degelijk sprake van slijtage aan het brein als je ouder wordt. Maar dit wordt grotendeels gecompenseerd doordat er andere gebieden in het brein ingeschakeld worden voor bepaalde handelingen die een ander gebied niet meer kan uitvoeren.  

Neuroplasticiteit is hier verantwoordelijk voor. Het zorgt ervoor dat bepaalde hersengebieden die beschadigt of veroudert zijn, overgenomen worden door andere gebieden. Mede daarom gebruiken oudere mensen vaak meerdere gebieden voor één bepaalde actie, terwijl jongeren dezelfde acties met één hersengebied kunnen oplossen. Dit gegeven is voor neurologen en psychologen zeer relevant omdat het inzicht geeft in nieuwe behandelingsmethoden voor mensen met problemen of ziekten aan het brein. Denk hierbij aan aandoeningen als ADHD, epilepsie en beroerten. Maar ook gedrags- en leerproblemen kunnen hierdoor beter in kaart gebracht worden en uiteindelijk ook beter behandeld.

 

Om neuroplasticiteit te stimuleren is het zeer verstandig om je brein actief te houden. Een goede manier is om je brein dagelijks op de proef te stellen door allerlei oefeningen en spelletjes te spelen die je brein scherp houden. Wetenschappers hebben geconcludeerd dat neuroplasticiteit het brein gezond en vitaal kan houden door middel van mentale en actieve training. Trainen bij BrainGymmer bijvoorbeeld zorgt voor een sterk brein en dus voor meer neuroplasticiteit. Omdat je brein bij ons dagelijks verschillende workouts doet, zoals het trainen van geheugen, concentratie en logisch denken, is er ruimte voor veel groei en ontwikkeling van het brein.

 

Variety is key in a succesful brain training program

There is a lot of scientific evidence that brain training really can help you improve in cognitive skills, for instance logic, memory and visual perception. But in order for these training programs to work properly, there is one important factor that we need to take into account: variety in workouts.

A recent study of the University of Amsterdam showed that brain training can be very helpful to improve cognitive skills if the training programs are varied and challenging. This study explains that: “A successful brain training program should preferably include a range of different tasks to engage a multitude of functions, as well as continually offer something new in order for the neuronal system to remain challenged and to create possibilities of maximum enhancement in this population”. So, during brain training, it is necessary to constantly stimulate the brain with new, challenging things. So instead of only focussing on one specific skill, it is better to exercise in more cognitive skills in one workout. This way the brain is stimulated to focus on new things over and over again. And if your brain is challenged in multiple ways, the workouts become more fun for you to do.

This is exactly what we offer at BrainGymmer. So start brain training on www.braingymmer.com.

Variety in brain training workouts

We at BrainGymmer offer you workouts of different brain training sessions, keeping you challenged and presenting you with a variety of exercises. Try our multitask workouts for different cognitive exercises to keep you challenged!

The research also pointed out that we as individuals can be cognitively very different than other individuals. One person may have a larger rate of cognitive decline than someone else, while others will not even show any decline at all. So every brain is unique in its own way. In a lot of studies where large cognitive experiments with groups are conducted, these individual differences are often being left out. But individual guidance is key in brain training. We at BrainGymmer offer you 100% personal guidance when you train your brains by playing our games. It is about you, and only you. We present your scores, encourage you to train and reward you when you keep on training!

Brain training really helps, it is fun and rewarding! Start your workout today at BrainGymmer!

5 tips to improve your memory

We are all very careful with our memory. That is because we do not want to forget the things or persons we love. We also want to remember more things at a single time without having to write them down. Another important matter is our general fear for memory-based diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s. Therefore, improving your memory can be a very good idea to begin with. We at BrainGymmer offer you memory games for you to start your memory exercise. With that, there are a lot of useful tips for you that we think you should know about when you want to remember something. We present you 5 tips for a better memory!

1. Use different tactics

Your memory is a complex phenomenon inside your brain. It is hard for scientists to unravel its mysteries. This means that if you want to improve your memory, you have to do different kinds of exercises. For instance, it is not sufficient enough to just remember a bunch of numbers at a time. You may improve your working memory for numbers (the so-called ‘digit span’), but you will not improve your memory for other aspects such as human faces or names. So in order to increase your memory in general, you have to try other ways as well. Try to remember pictures, or train yourself in remembering objects when you watch a short video. Try to focus on specific types of the human memory and you will see that you can remember much more than you used to.

Men forget

2.   Associate with visuals or characteristics

A little help now and then can result into massive cognitive improvement. So, use different tools that can help you. If you want to remember a (difficult) name, try to come up with words or visuals that are somehow related to that name. According to an article on Psychology Today in 2009, 85% of the middle-aged adults and older adults forgets names. But luckily there are some creative tricks that can help even the most forgetful people remembering names. For instance, the name Ryan can be easily remembered when you think of celebrities that are also named Ryan (for example Ryan Gossling). If you make these connections with other persons, it becomes easier for you to remember the easy names. To remember more difficult names or human faces, try to associate these names/appearances with things they do or things that are characteristic about them. Is doctor Kuzweiler fan of the New York Yankees? Than associate the New York Yankees with this person. You will notice that remembering a name or a face will become easier. The name prof. Prlwitzkowski can be a real pain when you want to remember it. Cut the name into pieces and relate these pieces to easy words. For instance: ‘pearl with cow ski’. Of course, you can use a very creative visual as well for this name; a skiing cow with a pearl perhaps?

 3.   Use mnemonic aids

For difficult terms or phenomena, use mnemonic aids. These are little tricks that help you remember complex systems, for instance the solar system or all the states of the US. When you want to remember the order of the planets that are the most close to the sun, you can come up with your own mnemonic aid. The order is this: Mercury Venus Earth Mars Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune Pluto. You can make a word for every first letter of the planet and with those words you can create a sentence to help you remember the order:

My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas, or perhaps:

Mary’s Violet Eyes Make John Stay Up Nights Praying

Either way, be creative and use the tools that help for you! Use items, persons, events that you know about in your sentences.Thinking lady

4.   Use categories and pairs

If you are tired of making a special shopping list for your groceries, than this tip is for you. Make pairs of the things you need to get. Do you need apples and bananas? Pair them up. When you put the items you need into related categories (vegetables, drinks, meat etc.) it becomes easier to remember the items during shopping. Mostly, categories of two, maybe three are easy to come up with. This tip has resemblance with tip number 2 because you associate certain shopping items with each other in order to remember them. Check out this shopping list for 30 seconds and use pairs to remember them, walk away and come back after 5 minutes:

bananas, chocolate milk, beer, eggs, toilet paper, sausages, lemons, energy drink, rice, shampoo, peanuts, tomatoes, deodorant, chicken wings

How many of the 14 items did you remember? Did you use related categories to help you remember the items? For instance the categories ‘fruit’ (bananas, lemons, tomatoes)? When you practice more, you will notice that you can improve your memory during these little games.

5.   Exercise (that means sleep as well)!

Here we go again, exercise is good for your body and mind. We all know it, but not all of us are actually doing it. But research shows us that you can significantly improve your memory if you exercise even more. When you exercise, the blood flow in your body gets more stimulated which results into more blood flow in your brain as well, giving you the opportunity to memorize more and better. And because exercise reduces stress, the chances of memory illnesses like dementia and Alzheimer’s are reduced. A big bonus of exercise are the ‘after effects’, the good feelings you get thanks to the endorphins your body produces after the workout. A good night rest is also considered an exercise in the sense that your brain gets refreshed. When your brain has rested, your memory capabilities are ready to go once again. Exercise and rest are key for your memory and especially if you want to improve it.

So, with the help of our memory training on BrainGymmer, you can use these tools to increase your memory even more!

 

Resources

The different types of the human memory. http://www.human-memory.net/types.html

Never Forget A Name Again. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brain-bootcamp/200906/never-forget-name-again

Serious Gaming is Serious Business

We at BrainGymmer provide you with the best brain games. Research shows that games, more specifically serious games, are very useful as a medium to train our grey matter. We already use serious games in education, marketing, health care and even the military. Then what is so characteristic about serious games?

Fun and seriousness

A long time ago, the Dutch historian and philosopher Johan Huizinga explicitly mentioned that ‘play’ cannot be serious at all. He thought that playing games was merely for fun, it was a cultural activity for leisure and social relationships. The whole idea of games being serious was thought to be absurd. But what’s the situation now, where serious games are being more and more integrated in society? Can serious games be fun?

First of all, serious games can train specific skills. They can either be designed to present the player a way of learning a new skill or to give the player a daily training program to improve multiple skills. Either way, serious games are not intended to be merely fun, but they have another more serious goal. In education, children play serious games to learn about a variety of things like the natural environment, history, topography and mathematics. It became part of the regular learning system and will eventually get a bigger part. But also adults play serious games to train and improve specific skills and these skills can positively affect their performances at work.

Plaatje Fun and Seriousness

This of course does not mean that serious games can’t be fun at all. In fact, serious games need at least some sort of fun element to keep players motivated. Game scholars believe that entertainment is essential in serious games in order to keep the games interesting for the players. The brain games on BrainGymmer for instance are both fun and serious. This is because the gameplay is appealing, the levels are getting more challenging and the game mechanics are simple. This is what makes a game ‘fun’. On the other hand, the games on BrainGymmer interactively challenge the player to keep on training. After playing, BrainGymmer provides the player with his/her training results in systematic diagrams and tables, which give the player useful feedback (did I improve or not?). This is what makes a game ‘serious’.

The ‘power’ of serious games

Do not underestimate the power of serious games in today’s society. Not only are serious game more and more common in everyday life, they also have the power to train people in  an interactive way. You are actually doing something, instead of passively reading a  book or watching a documentary. For example,  brain training research from 2010 showed remarkable results. It turned out that preschool children who had to play brain training games in class every day for 20 minutes showed more self-esteem than children who did not play these games. Plus the children who played the games improved significantly in their computational tasks. This means serious games like brain training games do have a positive effect for learning and completing tasks. This way, people at work can also profit from brain training games. They can improve cognitive skills like concentration and decision making which are essential at work to get good results.

Serious games are also being used in marketing strategies of companies (either profit or non-profit), often understood as ‘advergames’. These games try to convince the player of a certain idea (buy my product) or philosophy (McDonalds is not environment friendly). So serious games are not only useful for training specific skills, they can also send a (political) message to the player, often with the help of fun gameplay.

So in the end we can say that both fun and seriousness are two aspects that can effectively act together in serious games. Serious games are powerful because they are being used in many different branches, and in many different ways with different meanings behind it. Our BrainGymmer games for example are specifically designed to train your grey matter. Be serious, but have fun with BrainGymmer!

 

References:

Miller, David J. and Robertson, Derek P. “Using a Games Console in the Primary Classroom: Effects of “Brain Training” Programme on Computation and Self-Esteem”. British Journal of Educational Technology 41 (2), 2010.

Don’t believe what they told you: top 5 brain myths

When we grow up we hear many stories about the complex brain. About the ‘fact’ that genes completely decide how our brain would be like in our life, Or the famous story that tells us that our brain only gets worse as we grow older. These stories, or myths as we prefer to describe them, are nothing but false. Here are some remarkable brain myths.

Myth 1. Alcohol kills brain cells.

Good news! Drinking alcohol is okay! Well, not entirely. Drinking too much is still problematic for your body, including your brain. Not to mention the loss of awareness, motion control and logic sense when getting drunk. But alcohol does not kill brain cells, this is a well-spread myth. Then what is it that alcohol does to the brain?

Too much alcohol can cause damage to the ends of neurons (the brain cells), where neurons communicate with other neurons. But the cells itself will still be alive. It’s just the transmission between multiple neurons that is out of control once you fill up the booze rapidly. This is the reason you can’t see straight anymore or that you get headaches and hallucinations. Your speech will let you down and you can get nauseated. For the most part, the damage to the ends of neurons is reversible after you sober up.

But of course, if you just don’t know when to stop drinking you’re asking for trouble…

Plaatje hersenen alcohol

Myth 2. Listening to classical music makes you smarter.

Get your daily Mozart and Bach and start the musical workout! Is this the easy way to become smarter? Defined as the ‘Mozart effect’, it was believed for a long time that listening to classical music indeed made listeners smarter. Old IQ studies were implementing Mozart pieces before presenting the test to its testgroup, and they saw significant results: the testgroup scored higher when Mozart was on before the test was given. End of story, or not?

More recent studies have shown that listening to Mozart can temporarily improve cognitive functions such as concentration and performances on spatial-temporal tasks. But despite these bonuses, there is no evidence that a person actually becomes smarter in the long run. There are no signs of significant brain improvement after listening to the classics. It is imaginable though that someone gets calm and therefore better focussed when listening to Mozart but it does not increase the grades at high school automatically! Getting smarter is a product of a long process of commitment and hard work.[1]

Myth 3. Brains are comparable with computers.

We love to use metaphors to describe complex things. That also goes for understanding the human brain, we tend to compare it with computers. But there is actually not one element of the brain that can be understood as a metaphor of a high speed, data storing computer. What kinds of metaphors do we frequently use to describe the brain?

The human brain is often seen as a huge data storage system, just like a computer. But in fact, the brain does not have ‘empty spaces’ that are waiting to be filled up with information, just like computers which have specific spaces to put new information in. We also like to think that our brain gets visual images like they really are, just as a computer which can only present fixed images like pictures and movies. But we are actively interpreting and anticipating on visuals we see with our eyes, plus because we pay attention to different elements in the world we automatically see and distinquish these different parts. So our brain is way more complex than a mechanic computer. These metaphorical comparisons are not new, in fact they already existed way back in history. Philosophers like Descartes and Freud for instance already compared the complex human brain with machines in their days.[2]

Plaatje hersenen metafoor

Myth 4. Brain damage means permanent damage.

Our brain is fragile, which means we have to take good care of it. Avoid things like head banging and do not use drugs and alcohol. Other ways of brain damage are the result of accidents like concussions or when your head meets a heavy static object like a street or a wall. But not every damage to the brain is permanent. In fact, our brain has a great deal of plasticity, the ability of the brain to change and adapt according to circumstances, which can often lead to a recovery (partly or fully) of the brain.

Many scientific studies have shown that brain training on a daily basis increases brain plasticity, which leads to a healthier brain and more brain fitness. So go do your daily workout with BrainGymmer games.

Myth 5. Women use more parts of the brain than men.

This is a popular myth in magazines and books, the very ‘fact’ that men mainly rely on one hemisphere (roughly one half of the brain) for a particular function. Women however, tend to use more parts of the brain to perform a certain action. But, fitting in the theme here, this is also considered a myth.

The myth was, among others, created by Norman Geschwind who thought that male babies had a smaller left hemisphere because they had more testosterone levels than female babies. Many recent neurological studies however did not find any supporting evidence of this smaller hemisphere inside male brains. And with that, there is no such thing as the fact that men only use one part of the brain and that females use two parts. For instance, one study analysed the brain of 74 new-born babies, both male and female ones. The scientists did not find any signs of a smaller left hemisphere in the brain of male babies.[3] So, for the men among us, the next time a female (read: your wife, girlfriend or mother) says you have to use more than one brain half, you know what to say back!

You know what is not a myth? Braintraining really helps! Start your workout now here and get your daily brain exercise.

Is the wheel spinning or is it standing still?

Look at this picture, relax your mind, and you will notice your mind starts creating new ideas!
spinning wheel illusion

 

How many faces can you see in this picture?

Can you see more than your friends?
braintree

Click here for a larger version.

if you can read this you have a strong mind

braingymmer brain teaser

braingymmer brain teaser

Try to see the face in this picture

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Try to see the face in this picture.
Can you spot the face? Or maybe you can recognise a different shape or pattern!

There is a special game you can play that involves recognising patterns on BrainGymmer.

Are these straight lines?

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Today a little workout for your visual perception. Look at the picture – do you see a bulge caused by the curved lines ? Look more closely, use a ruler and you will see that there are only straight lines ! Look at it a bit longer,relax and you will see the effect becomes less, but it’s hard to make it go away. Do more cognitive tests and brain games on https://www.brain