Think Faster, Focus Better and Remember More

Think faster, focus better and remember more — Rewiring our brain to stay younger and smarter
Google Tech Talks. June 16, 2008
Dr. Michael M. Merzenich

Professor, University of California at San Francisco June 16, 2008

Neuroplasticity, memory … and human (your) potential

brain plasticity

< 27: we can reverse …

28: every time you specialize …

31:19 Learning problems can be effectively overcome in most children by intensive training that targets brain processing accuracy & speed: THE KEY NEUROLOGICAL SKILLS THAT SUPPORT FACILE LANGUAGE AND READING.

32:45 There is (of course) great variation in the richness of environments, and in the consequent elaboration of the brain machinery of individual children (and adults). Too much is credited to (blamed on) genetics.

A_30_million_word_gap_200833:16 The great disparities in language exposure (of course) powerfully influence a child’s school-house performance in the language and reading (A 30 million word gap). Hart and Risley, 1995.

33:50 differences in the nature of the interactions between the child and the adult: approbations: affirmatives (2:1 vs 1:6)
affirmative: Stop that shit, Billy! Don’t do that, Billy!
approbation: Way to go, Mary! Nice job, Mary!

35:55 going forward, when children enter high school, we know that children from these 2 great divisions in society are going to be about 5 years separated in their reading ability

36:40 Limitations can be overcome in most children, by intensive training that corrects their neurology

Exercises are “game-like” (engaging, fun, rewarding)

37:55 Proficiency in reading: taking the child to 70 percentile (so, 70% of children in American schools aren’t proficient)

Age-related_cognitive_decline_200844:47 Age-related cognitive decline–A pervasive feature of aging Effect of age on various aspects of mental function:
– Vocabulary
– Reasoning
– Spatial visualization
– Episodic memory
– Perceptual speed
[Adapted from Salthouse et al.]

Begins in the 20’s and 30’s; continues throughout life

People in their 70’s are in the bottom 20% relative to people in their 20’s

45:56 Why do we “lose it”, as we growth older? 1. Your brain is older and “noisier” … 3. You rely too much on abstraction …

Auditory_speed_of_processing_200851:02 Old brains slow down. Changes in auditory processing speed vs. age, in the “normal” population.

Auditory speed of processing

brain_adjustment_of_sampling_rate_200851:41 Consequences of your brain making a necessary downward adjustment of its “sampling rate”:
1. Error-prone (“sparse”) signal reception
2. Noise-sensitive signal recognition
3. Degraded syntactic (predictive) control
4. Widespread memory (cognitive) deficits
5. Reduced processing efficiency
6. Lower learning rates

training_generalizes_to_memory_and_everyday_cognition_200852:51 OUTCOME (Mayo Clinic: USC RCT ITT Trial) BFP results:
1. Training improves directly trained tasks
2. Which generalize to untrained measures of memory
3. Which generalize to everyday cognition function & Quality of life

52:55 What is the magnitude of this improvement? Cognitive ability in older individuals by this training takes about 40 hours. Translates to improvement of your overall cognitive performance by about 11 years.

Ball et. al., JAMA (2002)

Willis et. al. JAMA (2006)

Wolinsky et. al., Journal of Gerontology (2006a, b)

Edwards et. al., Gerontology (2002)

Edwards et. al. Aging & Mental Health (2005)

Renker et. al. Human Factors (2003)

brain fitness in adult life

For more information:

learn a foreign language

1:10:00 deep thinking

intensive, progressive, directed training

1:19:30 It’s all abstraction; there’s nothing real about the activities in your brain, in the sense it’s all symbolic

1:21:00 brain fitness

The only way you actually change your brain is when it’s serious to the brain itself. … It has to really matter to the brain. … focus of your attention … you would interpret under which motivation …

as long as you work on the cutting edge, as long as it matters …


Memory enhancement in healthy older adults using a brain plasticity-based training program: A randomized, controlled study
Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2006 Aug 15;103(33):12523-8.
Henry W. Mahncke, … and Michael M. Merzenich

How To Lean In Without Burning Out: Vanessa Loder
December 11, 2013
guided visualization