zondag 22 april 2012
An article in the NY Times ("How Psychedelic Drugs Can Help Patients Face Death") tells about researchers who give people who are expected to die within a short time and are afraid of dying psychedelics like MDMA (Ecstacy) and psilocybin with good results. However, it should be noticed that they have extensive protocols like having the people bring special attributes like photos of relatives. The widespread recreational use of such drugs usually doesn't have much beneficial effect.
The NY Times has an article ("Can You Make Yourself Smarter?") about training to become more intelligent. For a long time it was thought that it was impossible to become more intelligent with training. Training was perceived to work only on a very narrow field. Training to do math won't make you a better reader, for example. But now there seems considerable evidence that training the working memory (the amount of things you can keep "online" together in your head) may improve your fluid intelligence (capacity for problem solving). It started in 2002 in Sweden: The study, by a Swedish neuroscientist named Torkel Klingberg, involved just 14 children, all with A.D.H.D. Half participated in computerized tasks designed to strengthen their working memory, while the other half played less challenging computer games. After just five weeks, Klingberg found that those who played the working-memory games fidgeted less and moved about less. More remarkable, they also scored higher on one of the single best measures of fluid intelligence, the Raven’s Progressive Matrices. Improvement in working memory, in other words, transferred to improvement on a task the children weren’t training for. This was picked up by two doctoral candidates at the university of Bern in Switzerland, Jaeggi and Buschkuehl, who did some studies of their own on improving intelligence. They used a simple game, the N--back test for training and could show significant improvements on Raven's matrix test. Since then it has become a little hype. Some companies have jumped into the subject and offer commercial training. And researchers are looking whether improving other basic skills might work as well. The main drawback is that it takes a lot of effort of achieve these results. Training a half to one hour a day for many weeks can be rather boring. Some people find this really hard to keep up. And you need commitment: Only those children who improved substantially on the N-back training had gains in fluid intelligence.. So people are trying to make the training more attractive. “That’s the biggest challenge we have as researchers in this field,” Jaeggi told me, “to get people engaged and motivated to play our working-memory game and to really stick with it. Some people say it’s hard and really frustrating and really challenging and tiring.” In this context some related things may be of interest: - training with neurofeedback also takes many hours of training. - it is well known that physical training prevents decline of mental abilities in old people. - In another article ("How Exercise Could Lead to a Better Brain") the effect of so-called “enriched” environments — homes filled with toys and engaging, novel tasks — on the intelligence of lab mice was studied. It appears that only running a wheel had lasting effects. It looks like physical exercise leads to new neurons that are even more general than those of the working memory tasks. A rich environment does have effects on mice but differently: They explore more; they learn faster; they seek pleasure. Enrichment, in short, acts behaviorally like an antidepressant. - little children tend to be very good at the memory play. Later on they loose that. Might it be that we all have a lot of working memory when we are young and that we slowly loose it? - Recently there was an article about beneficial effects of playing games. It claimed that playing games increased spacial orientation and made women as good as men in that area.