SuperAgers – Keeping Your Brain Young for Life – Positive Neuropsychology?

Secret Brains of ‘SuperAger’

80-Year-Olds with Brains That Look and Act As If They Were 30

From ScienceDaily (Aug. 16, 2012)

Medicine has looked at what is wrong with us for over a hundred years. Yet with the advent of positive psychology, researchers are beginning to ask what is right with us. Northwestern researcher Emily Rogalski asked what goes right in the brains of the elderly who have terrific memories. And, do such people — known as cognitive SuperAgers — even exist?

Rogalski’s latest study has identified for the first time ever a resilient group of people over the age of 80 whose memory and attention are as functional as people 30 years younger.

In particular, the vitality of the SuperAgers’ cortex was impressive. The cortex is the outer layer of the brain and is critical for memory, attention and other executive functions.  SuperAgers’ cortex was much thicker than the cortex of the normal group of folks aged 80 and older (whose showed significant thinning) and more closely resembled the cortex size of participants ages 50 to 65, considered the middle-aged group of the study.

“These findings are remarkable given the fact that grey matter or brain cell loss is a common part of normal aging,” said Rogalski, the principal investigator of the study and an assistant research professor at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Northwestern University School of Medicine.

By identifying older people who seem to be uniquely protected from the deterioration of memory and atrophy of brain cells that accompanies aging, Rogalski hopes to unlock the secrets of their youthful brains. Those discoveries may be applied to protect others from memory loss or even Alzheimer’s disease.

“By looking at a really healthy older brain, we can start to deduce how SuperAgers are able to maintain their good memory,” Rogalski stated. “Many scientists study what’s wrong with the brain, but maybe we can ultimately help Alzheimer’s patients by figuring out what goes right in the brain of SuperAgers. What we learn from these healthy brains may inform our strategies for improving quality of life for the elderly and for combatting Alzheimer’s disease.”

In another region deep in the brain, the anterior cingulate of SuperAger participants’ was actually thicker than in the 50 to 65 year olds.

“This is pretty incredible,” Rogalski said. “This region is important for attention. Attention supports memory. Perhaps the SuperAgers have really keen attention and that supports their exceptional memories.”

Only 10 percent of the people who “thought they had outstanding memories” met the criteria for the study. To be defined as a SuperAger, the participants needed to score at or above the norm of the 50 to 65 year olds on memory screenings.

“These are a special group of people,” Rogalski said. They aren’t growing on trees.”

For the study, Rogalski viewed the MRI scans of 12 Chicago-area Superager participants’ brains and screened their memory and other cognitive abilities. The study included 10 normally aging elderly participants who were an average age of 83.1 and 14 middle-aged participants who were an average age of 57.9. There were not significant differences in education among the groups.

Most of the SuperAger participants plan to donate their brains to the study. “By studying their brains we can link the attributes of the living person to the underlying cellular features,” Rogalski said.

Set your goal to be a SuperAger. Act AS IF your memory and attention are growing stronger with age.

To life, love and laughter,

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Coach

Author of the award-winning Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion & Thought

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Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Northwestern University, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.



Journal Reference:

1.     Theresa M. Harrison, Sandra Weintraub, M.-Marsel Mesulam and Emily Rogalski. Superior Memory and Higher Cortical Volumes in Unusually Successful Cognitive Aging. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 2012 DOI: 10.1017/S1355617712000847

Top of Form

Northwestern University (2012, August 16). Secrets of ‘SuperAger’ brains: Elderly super-agers have brains that look and act decades younger than their age. ScienceDaily.

Bottom of Form

Mindfulness Training Changes Brain Structure in As Little As Eight Weeks

Mindfulness is a 2500-year-old practice that focuses on the nonjudgmental awareness of thoughts, feelings, sensations and state of mind. Mindfulness is a staple of many positive psychology programs due to it’s wide-ranging positive health benefits. Mindfulness has been shown to be significantly helpful in reducing symptoms of depression, anger, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and even speeds the healing of physical ailments such as psoriasis. Mindfulness rests on a mountain of research spanning over 30 years demonstrating its effectiveness in such areas.

Mindfulness as resting rocks

Most recently, active participation in an 8-week mindfulness program was shown to make noticeable physical changes in brain areas associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. In a new study coming out in the January 30 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, spearheaded  by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers share the results of their study, the first ever to demonstrate mindfulness-produced improvements over an 8-week period in the brain’s grey matter.

Mindfulness – One of the Best Tools Available for Stress, Anxiety, Anger & Depression

“Although the practice of mindfulness is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that mindfulness also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day,” says Sara Lazar, PhD, of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program, the study’s lead author.

Prior studies found structural differences between the brains of experienced mindfulness practitioners and individuals with no history of mindfulness, with thickening of the cerebral cortex in areas associated with awareness and emotional intelligence. But those studies were unable to conclude that those differences were truly produced by the practice of mindfulness.

In this study, magnetic resonance images were taken of the brains of sixteen (16) participants two weeks before and after they took part in the 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness. In addition to weekly meetings that included the practice of mindfulness — which focuses on nonjudgmental awareness of thoughts, feelings and sensations — participants received audio files to use for daily guided mindfulness practice. Participants tracked the amount of time they practiced mindfulness each day. A set of MRI brain images were also taken of a control group of people who did not practice mindfulness over the same 8-week period.

Mindfulness, stress management, anger management tools

Mindfulness group participants spent an average of 27 minutes daily practicing mindfulness exercises. Their answers to a mindfulness questionnaire showed significant improvements in mindfulness and meta-cognition compared with pre-study responses.

Physical Changes In Brain Due to Mindfulness Practice

The analysis of brain images found increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, which is associated with new learning and long-term memory, as well as in brain regions associated with self-awareness and empathy.

Decrease in Stress & the Amygdala

Those who reported a decrease in stress also had a decrease in grey-matter density in the amygdala, which is associated with the presence of anxiety, depression and stress. Interestingly, no such changes were seen in the control group, indicating that the brain changes were not a result of the inevitable passage of time.

“It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing mindfulness, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being, reduce stress and quality of life.” says Britta Hölzel, PhD, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany. “Other studies in different patient populations have shown that mindfulness can make significant improvements in a variety of symptoms, and we are now investigating the underlying mechanisms in the brain that facilitate this change.”

John Schinnerer, Ph.D., Founder of Guide to Self, Inc.

John Schinnerer, Ph.D. is in private practice in Danville, CA teaching clients the latest tools to manage emotions such as anger, anxiety and depression. Using positive psychology, he helps clients achieve happy, thriving, meaningful lives. He graduated summa cum laude from U.C. Berkeley with a Ph.D. in educational psychology. John hosted over 200 episodes of Guide To Self Radio, a prime time radio show on positive psychology, in the San Francisco Bay Area.   He wrote the award-winning book, ‘Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought.’ He sits on the Advisory Board of PsychCentral.com, one of the top psychology sites on the web. He may be reached via email at John@GuideToSelf.com.  His award-winning blog on positive psychology, Shrunken Mind is at http://drjohnblog.guidetoself.com. His newest blog on positive psychology and anger management can be found at http://webangermanagement.com.
Story Source:
The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Massachusetts General Hospital.

Journal Reference:
1. Britta K. Hölzel, James Carmody, Mark Vangel, Christina Congleton, Sita M. Yerramsetti, Tim Gard, Sara W. Lazar. Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 2011; 191 (1): 36 DOI: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006

Failure better teacher than success. Knowledge from failure lasts longer – U of Colorado Bus. School

University of Colorado Denver Business School study shows failure better teacher than success

Knowledge gained from failure lasts longer

DENVER (August 23, 2010) – While success is surely sweeter than failure, it seems failure is a far better teacher, and organizations that fail spectacularly often flourish more in the long run, according to a new study by Vinit Desai, assistant professor of management at the University of Colorado Denver Business School.

Desai’s research, published in the Academy of Management Journal, focused on companies and organizations that launch satellites, rockets and shuttles into space – an arena where failures are high profile and hard to conceal.

Working with Peter Madsen, assistant professor at BYU School of Management, Desai found that organizations not only learned more from failure than success, they retained that knowledge longer.

“We found that the knowledge gained from success was often fleeting while knowledge from failure stuck around for years,” he said. “But there is a tendency in organizations to ignore failure or try not to focus on it. Managers may fire people or turn over the entire workforce while they should be treating the failure as a learning opportunity.”

The researchers said they discovered little “significant organizational learning from success” but added “we do not discount the possibility that it may occur in other settings.”

Desai compared the flights of the space shuttle Atlantis and the Challenger. During the 2002 Atlantis flight, a piece of insulation broke off and damaged the left solid rocket booster but did not impede the mission or the program. There was little follow-up or investigation.

The Challenger was launched next and another piece of insulation broke off. This time the shuttle and its seven-person crew were destroyed.

The disaster prompted the suspension of shuttle flights and led to a major investigation resulting in 29 recommended changes to prevent future calamities.

The difference in response in the two cases, Desai said, came down to this: The Atlantis was considered a success and the Challenger a failure.

“Whenever you have a failure it causes a company to search for solutions and when you search for solutions it puts you as an executive in a different mindset, a more open mindset,” said Desai.

He said the airline industry is one sector of the economy that has learned from failures, at least when it comes to safety.

“Despite crowded skies, airlines are incredibly reliable. The number of failures is miniscule,” he said. “And past research has shown that older airlines, those with more experience in failure, have a lower number of accidents.”

Desai doesn’t recommend seeking out failure in order to learn. Instead, he advised organizations to analyze small failures and near misses to glean useful information rather than wait for major failures.

“The most significant implication of this study…is that organizational leaders should neither ignore failures nor stigmatize those involved with them,” he concluded in the June edition of the Academy of Management Journal, “rather leaders should treat failures as invaluable learning opportunities, encouraging the open sharing of information about them.”

###

Located on the University of Colorado Denver’s downtown campus, the Business School is the largest accredited graduate school of business in Colorado with more than 18,000 alumni. It serves more than 1,200 graduate students and 1,400 undergraduate students each year. Students and faculty are involved in solving real-world business problems as they collaborate on more than 100 projects with area businesses every semester through classroom work, guest lectures and research projects.

From EurekAlert!

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Founder Guide to Self

Award-winning author, blogger and speaker

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Taking music seriously: How music training primes nervous system and boosts learning

July 20, 2010

Those ubiquitous wires connecting listeners to you-name-the-sounds from invisible MP3 players — whether of Bach, Miles Davis or, more likely today, Lady Gaga — only hint at music’s effect on the soul throughout the ages.

Now a data-driven review by Northwestern University researchers that will be published July 20 in Nature Reviews Neuroscience pulls together converging research from the scientific literature linking musical training to learning that spills over to skills including language, speech, memory, attention and even vocal emotion. The science covered comes from labs all over the world, from scientists of varying scientific philosophies, using a wide range of research methods.

The explosion of research in recent years focusing on the effects of music training on the nervous system, including the studies in the review, have strong implications for education, said Nina Kraus, lead author of the Nature perspective, the Hugh Knowles Professor of Communication Sciences and Neurobiology and director of Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory.

Scientists use the term neuroplasticity to describe the brain’s ability to adapt and change as a result of training and experience over the course of a person’s life. The studies covered in the Northwestern review offer a model of neuroplasticity, Kraus said. The research strongly suggests that the neural connections made during musical training also prime the brain for other aspects of human communication.

An active engagement with musical sounds not only enhances neuroplasticity, she said, but also enables the nervous system to provide the stable scaffolding of meaningful patterns so important to learning.

“The brain is unable to process all of the available sensory information from second to second, and thus must selectively enhance what is relevant,” Kraus said. Playing an instrument primes the brain to choose what is relevant in a complex process that may involve reading or remembering a score, timing issues and coordination with other musicians.

“A musician’s brain selectively enhances information-bearing elements in sound,” Kraus said. “In a beautiful interrelationship between sensory and cognitive processes, the nervous system makes associations between complex sounds and what they mean.” The efficient sound-to-meaning connections are important not only for music but for other aspects of communication, she said.

The Nature article reviews literature showing, for example, that musicians are more successful than non-musicians in learning to incorporate sound patterns for a new language into words. Children who are musically trained show stronger neural activation to pitch changes in speech and have a better vocabulary and reading ability than children who did not receive music training.

And musicians trained to hear sounds embedded in a rich network of melodies and harmonies are primed to understand speech in a noisy background. They exhibit both enhanced cognitive and sensory abilities that give them a distinct advantage for processing speech in challenging listening environments compared with non-musicians.

Children with learning disorders are particularly vulnerable to the deleterious effects of background noise, according to the article. “Music training seems to strengthen the same neural processes that often are deficient in individuals with developmental dyslexia or who have difficulty hearing speech in noise.”

Currently what is known about the benefits of music training on sensory processing beyond that involved in musical performance is largely derived from studying those who are fortunate enough to afford such training, Kraus said.

The research review, the Northwestern researchers conclude, argues for serious investing of resources in music training in schools accompanied with rigorous examinations of the effects of such instruction on listening, learning, memory, attention and literacy skills.

“The effect of music training suggests that, akin to physical exercise and its impact on body fitness, music is a resource that tones the brain for auditory fitness and thus requires society to re-examine the role of music in shaping individual development,” the researchers conclude.

More information: “Music training for the development of auditory skills,” by Nina Kraus and Bharath Chandrasekaran, will be published July 20 in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience.

Provided by Northwestern University (web)

1st time ever – neuroscientists better @ predicting ur behavior than you are! UCLA Study

From UCLA press release on EurekAlert!…

‘Neuroscientists can predict your behavior better than you can

Surprising UCLA brain scanning study has implications for advertising, public health campaigns

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” — John Wanamaker, 19th-century U.S. department store pioneer

In a study with implications for the advertising industry and public health organizations, UCLA neuroscientists have shown they can use brain scanning to predict whether people will use sunscreen during a one-week period even better than the people themselves can.

“There is a very long history within psychology of people not being very good judges of what they will actually do in a future situation,” said the study’s senior author, Matthew Lieberman, a UCLA professor of psychology and of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences. “Many people ‘decide’ to do things but then don’t do them.”

The new study by Lieberman and lead author Emily Falk, who earned her doctorate in psychology from UCLA this month, shows that increased activity in a brain region called the medial prefrontal cortex among individuals viewing and listening to public service announcement slides on the importance of using sunscreen strongly indicated that these people were more likely to increase their use of sunscreen the following week, even beyond the people’s own expectations.

“From this region of the brain, we can predict for about three-quarters of the people whether they will increase their use of sunscreen beyond what they say they will do,” Lieberman said. “If you just go by what people say they will do, you get fewer than half of the people accurately predicted, and using this brain region, we could do significantly better.”

While most people’s self-reports are not very accurate, they do not realize their self-reports are wrong so often in predicting future behavior,” Falk said. “It is surprising to find out that some technique might be able to predict my own behavior better than I can. Yet the brain seems to reveal something important that we may not even realize.”

The study, the first persuasion study in neuroscience to predict behavior change, appears June 23 in the Journal of Neuroscience.

For the study, Falk, Lieberman and their collaborators sought people who did not use sunscreen every day. The study group consisted of 20 participants, mostly UCLA students, 10 female and 10 male. The participants had their brains scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) at UCLA’s Ahmanson–Lovelace Brain Mapping Center as they saw and heard a series of public service announcements. They were also asked about their intentions to use sunscreen over the next week and their attitudes about sunscreen.

The participants were then contacted a week later and asked on how many days during the week they had used sunscreen.

Lieberman and Falk focused on part of the brain’s medial prefrontal cortex, which is located in the front of the brain, between the eyebrows. This brain region is associated with self-reflection — thinking about what we like and do not like and our motivations and desires.

“It is the one region of the prefrontal cortex that we know is disproportionately larger in humans than in other primates,” Lieberman said. “This region is associated with self-awareness and seems to be critical for thinking about yourself and thinking about your preferences and values.”

The researchers developed a model based on 10 people and tested it on the next 10. They shuffled the 20 people in different ways to test the model. There are more than 180,000 ways to divide the 20 people into groups, Falk said.

“We ran a simulation of the 180,000 combinations, developed our model on the first 10 subjects on each of the 180,000 simulations, and tested it on the second 10,” Falk said. “We saw a very reliable relationship, where for the vast majority of the 180,000 ways to divide the group up, this one region of the brain, the medial prefrontal cortex, does a very good job of predicting sunscreen use in the second group.”

This finding could be relevant to many public health organizations, as well as the advertising industry, Lieberman and Falk said.

“For advertisers, there may be a lot more that is knowable than is known, and this is a data-driven method for knowing more about how to create persuasive messages,” said Lieberman, one of the founders of social cognitive neuroscience.

Neural focus groups

While 19th-century department store pioneer John Wanamaker (quoted at the beginning of this release) advertised effectively for his stores in newspapers, he still said he was wasting half his advertising budget — only he didn’t know which half.

“We’re learning something about which half,” Lieberman said.

While advertising agencies often use focus groups to test commercials and movie trailers, in the future they and public health officials perhaps should add “neural focus groups” to test which messages will be effective while monitoring the brain activity of their subjects.

“A problem with standard focus groups,” Falk said, “is that people are lousy at reporting what they will actually do. We have not had much to supplement that approach, but in the future it may be possible to create what we are calling ‘neural focus groups.’ Instead of talking with people about what they think they will do, a public health or advertising agency can study their brains and learn what they are really likely to do and how an advertisement would be likely to affect millions of other people as well.”

“Given that there are emerging technologies that are relatively portable and approximate some of what fMRI can do at a fraction of the cost, looking to the brain to shape persuasive messages could become a reality,” Lieberman said. “But we’re just at the beginning. This is one of the first papers on anything like this. There will be a series of papers over the next 10 years or more that will tell us what factors are driving neural responses.”

“We hope to build a sophisticated model of persuasion that may incorporate multiple brain regions,” said Falk, who studies the neural basis of persuasion and attitude change. She has been hired by the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor as an assistant professor of communication studies and psychology and a member of the university’s Institute for Social Research, starting in September.

While some people have emphasized reasoning and emotion as key areas on which to base advertising campaigns, a key question may be whether messages and advertisements can be produced that “make people feel, ‘This is about me and is relevant to my preferences and motivations,'” Falk said. “Perhaps effective messages reinforce our values, our self-identity, what motivates us. We will learn much more as we continue this line of research over the years.”

Neuroscientists will learn whether they can predict behavior better and are likely to obtain a more nuanced understanding of the roles played by different parts of brain regions, said Falk, who this March received UCLA’s Charles E. and Sue K. Young Award for outstanding research and teaching. She is interested in how to make more effective health and other public service messages aimed at young adults.

“There is still much we do not know about how to get people to make healthier choices,” Falk said. “We hope to learn much more about what makes messages more or less persuasive.”

Different brain regions may be important for persuading people to tell or e-mail their friends about a health message, product or service; Lieberman and Falk are studying this issue of “creating buzz” as well.

However, the implications of the research go far beyond advertising, Lieberman said.

“There are many applications beyond how you make a good 30-second commercial,” he said, “including how teachers can communicate better so their students won’t tune out or how doctors can convince patients to stick to their instructions. We all use persuasion in some form or another every day.”

Beware of hucksters

Some people are already offering “neuro-marketing,” purporting to help businesses sell their products and help candidates run their advertising campaigns, Lieberman noted. They may, for example, recommend what colors and sounds to use in commercials. Is this effective, or are they claiming expertise they do not possess?

“In general, they are taking simple views of how different parts of the brain work and are saying it is important to turn a particular part of the brain on when advertising, and therefore you should do more of this or that,” Lieberman said. “For instance, they will say you want to activate the amygdala because that is the brain’s emotion center. Typically they are not looking at the relationship between what happens in the brain when someone is exposed to an advertisement and what actually are the outcomes that you care about. For example, do people change their behavior? Does someone spread the message to others? Instead, they are giving generic analysis, and my guess is that the vast majority of the advice they are giving is not accurate.

“To really understand the relationship between the brain’s responses to brands and persuasive materials and desirable outcomes, you actually have to measure the outcomes that are desirable and not just say what should work,” he said. “There are many folks claiming to be neuroscientists who have read a little introductory neuroscience, and that is not enough expertise. It’s almost infinitely more complicated than that.”

Co-authors on the Journal of Neuroscience paper are Elliot Berkman, a UCLA graduate student of psychology in Lieberman’s laboratory who will be an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Oregon this fall; Traci Mann, a professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota–Minneapolis who was formerly on UCLA’s faculty; and Brittany Harrison, a former UCLA undergraduate student.’

John’s Thoughts…

Okay, so I love this study. This excites the hell out of me. The idea that we are finally at the point of using neuroscientific tools to be able to somewhat accurately predict human behavior is astounding.

However, here is the pitfall with this particular study. The researchers have said several times that humans are notoriously bad at self-report. In other words, we are not very good at telling other people what we will do or what we have done. We know memory is unreliable and varies according to what emotional state we are in at the present moment. We know we are poor predictors of how we will behave in the future. We know we don’t do well at predicting how future events will make us feel.

 And yet, the release says, ‘participants were then contacted a week later and asked on how many days during the week they had used sunscreen.’

So we don’t truly know how frequently people had used sunscreen because their recollections will vary based on how they were feeling at the moment they reported that information.

And I’ve been here before from a researcher’s perspective and it’s a maddening chicken and egg scenario.

The other problem I see coming down the road is the ethical debate. I am absolutely for the development of this technology with the assumption that it will be used for constructive, socially desirable messaging. And that is a BIG assumption. Once the technology is fully developed, anyone can get their hands on it. Once the technology is in the hands of individuals who lack ethics, values and social and emotional awareness, we’ve got a serious problem. Because then the technology will be used to craft powerful, predictive messages that are fueled by nothing more than revenue. That is dangerous.

The next step, in my mind, is to teach more individuals social and emotional awareness so that more are acting towards the greater good, more are joining the advanced human team, more are aware of their top values AND acting in accordance with them. Only when we reach this plateau of human development will such technologies have a chance of fulfilling their idealistic promises (and I’m all for idealism!).

In any case, I’m still excited about the study. I think they’ve done tremendous work and this is the harbinger of a new vista in neuroscience. Congratulations to the team at UCLA!

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Award-winning author, founder of Guide To Self

Real Men, Real Emotions, Real Potential

http://drjohnsblog.wordpress.com