Archive for 'Brain Enhancement'

Neuroplastic changes found following brainwave training

A user just sent me a link to an exciting new study outlined in Science Daily about brainwave training resulting in changes in brain plasticity (or the ability of the brain to adapt to change):

Significant changes in brain plasticity have been observed following alpha brainwave training.

A pioneering collaboration between two laboratories from the University of London has provided the first evidence of neuroplastic changes occurring directly after natural brainwave training. Researchers from Goldsmiths and the Institute of Neurology have demonstrated that half an hour of voluntary control of brain rhythms is sufficient to induce a lasting shift in cortical excitability and intracortical function.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100310114936.htm

New study on Brainwave Entrainment (By Dr. Huang)

I’m pleased to announce the publication of “A Comprehensive Review of the Psychological Effects of Brainwave Entrainment” in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine this month. This paper is the most comprehensive review of peer reviewed research in the subject, and was written in order to inform those within and the beyond the field of brainwave entrainment (BWE), and to provide sufficient background for future research.

Most of the research known to date has been summarized by David Siever in two unpublished manuscripts that he sells and distributes. They contain much valuable information about the history of BWE, both published and unpublished studies and proposed mechanisms of action. However, despite their length, they do not provide a complete listing of the peer reviewed literature, nor have his manuscripts faced the scientific scrutiny that comes with publishing in a peer reviewed journal. In fact, in our comprehensive search, we found articles that have never before been mentioned by those in the brainwave entrainment development and scientific community. Why? Believe it or not, the problem is in the inconsistency in terminology used to describe BWE. The term, BWE, until today, cannot be found in the scientific literature. Instead it is referred to as audiovisual stimulation, photic stimulation, photic driving, auditory entrainment, etc, etc. In all I did a search using 31 different terms to look for articles on brainwave entrainment, which returned 27,830 articles using Ovid (1 out of the 4 databases I used to do the search). Only a very small handful of these turned out to be articles on BWE. Thus much of the credit needs to go to my bosses at Transparent Corporation, who gave me the time to do this exhaustive, time consuming, and yet important work.

I looked for papers with psychological terms that described outcomes that I’d seen associated with BWE on the web, in conferences and in the published and unpublished literature. After combining the two searches, and screening for those that were indeed articles addressing psychological outcomes of BWE, and those that passed some basic scientific criteria, we ended up with just 20 articles.

The psychological effects that had been examined in relation to BWE included cognitive functioning (we divided it into verbal, non-verbal, memory, attention and overall intelligence), stress (long and short-term), pain, headache/migraines, mood, behavior and pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS). When two or more studies had examined similar outcomes, we placed them into tables for greater comparability. Thus we had five tables divided by cognitive functioning, stress, pain, headaches/migraines and mood. Studies used a variety of different frequency protocols and stimulation methods which are outlined in the tables.

Out of the 20 studies, 17 were actually developed to support or confirm a hypothesis, and of these, all found a positive effect in at least one outcome. And in each outcome mentioned, at least one study had a positive finding. What was remarkable was that for some outcomes, only one of several protocols had a positive effect, while others were improved by a variety of different protocols. The most consistent positive findings were found in attention (4/4 studies), pain (3/3 studies) and headache/migraines (3/3). While positive effects were found in all other outcomes examined except for mood, either fewer studies had been conducted or a smaller percentage of the protocols examined were effective. Mood was examined in the 3 studies where the effects of theta were examined on a variety of outcomes. So we believe that the ability of brainwave entrainment to positively effect mood has not been properly tested in the peer reviewed literature.

Overall, we conclude that brainwave entrainment shows real potential to positively affect psychological outcomes. However, more and bigger studies need to be done, using additional outcomes and outcomes already examined. We hope that we’ve provided the necessary background to inspire future research and collaboration, so that the field of brainwave entrainment can gain recognition and momentum in the scientific literature.

To view a copy of this article, visit:

http://www.transparentcorp.com/research/

Tina L. Huang, Ph.D.
Director of Research
Transparent Corporation

The Mind WorkStation release

A couple months ago I was browsing through some old posts on the forum and I found one from September of 2006 where I talked about an application that was going to be in beta testing in “a couple months”. How’s that for an off estimate?

After two years of research and development, Mind WorkStation was finally released on Monday. We celebrated with a pizza party.

A huge amount of work went into this. This is the seventh software product we’ve released, and by far the most ambitious and complex. All through the development, release and support of the other products I’ve been taking notes about what users want to be able to do, what research needs to be done and what problems are encountered. So, in this application we had a very large to-do list. And all throughout development we were working very closely with other researchers, developers, AVS manufacturers, EEG and biofeedback vendors.

Dr. Huang’s new research played a big part in constructing the sessions that come with it. For example, we have been able to separate sessions into verbal vs non-verbal skills improvement. A session for memory has been developed, based on some very promising studies. There are also more fascinating sessions included, such as a migraine session using alternating-eye photic stimulation at 30 Hz, or a muscle contraction headache session randomly stimulating 1-3 Hz. Another even more successful migraine session uses frequencies chosen by the user based on comfort, instead of using a set protocol!

The idea of self-chosen frequencies is very interesting, especially when dealing with a large frequency range and people who have no experience with brainwave entrainment. Some choose gamma, others choose theta, others choose delta, and so on. Yet, at least with migraines, all appeared to benefit the user tremendously.

Michael Hutchison wrote that people have a subjective feeling of “connectedness” to a frequency when they are being entrained to it successfully. Perhaps this subjective feeling has a part to play in the success of self-chosen frequencies. I’ve written many times about how different everyone’s response is to brainwave entrainment. One person may respond very well to 8 Hz but not to 10. Or to 5 Hz but not to 7. EEG research has yielded some intriguing insights into why this is.

Brainwave entrainment occurs best at one’s natural dominant frequencies. In fact, the more dominant the frequency is (the higher the amplitude), the narrower the range a person can entrain to. Someone with a very high dominant 10 Hz frequency, may not be able to entrain at all to 7 Hz.

This is where EEG-Driven stimulation becomes very useful. It is a simple thing to discover a person’s dominant frequency in any frequency band, and that data can then be transferred in real-time to Mind WorkStation to be converted into audio/visual stimuli. We worked with the fine people at Thought Technology to develop a number of EEG protocols that do this. I also developed similar protocols in BioExplorer as well, so our EEG customers can do the same. The EEG-driven sessions I’ve tried so far have been nothing short of amazing.

The response to Mind WorkStation so far has been very positive. It is already being put to use developing sessions for clinics, nursing homes, ADD kids and more. I’m really looking forward to seeing what people do with it. We purposefully designed it to be as flexible as possible, so I fully expect to see it used in ways I could never have imagined. In the end, that’s the point; to make research and development in this industry easy.

Before I get back to regular blogging, I thought I would use this space to share some cool Mind WorkStation features.

Waveform Ramping

In Mind WorkStation waveforms can be “morphed” into each other over time. For example, you could start with an isochronic beat, and slowly morph it into a sine wave:

Here is an animation showing what happens to the sound over time:

-

3D Audio Positioning

This allows you to position audio in 3D space. Take a listen to the results with a relaxation script read by Max, along with some other relaxing sounds. Listen with headphones if possible.

 3D sound sample.mp3

Ambience Generator

The ambience feature randomly generates sound, reducing habituation by creating a different experience every time.

Random ThunderStorm.mp3

Random Forest.mp3

Those are three neat features I like to show off, but there is a lot more to the program. Biofeedback integration, playlists, entrainment-safe audio effects, filtering methods, new stimulation techniques, and so on. Visit the below links if you’re interested in learning more:

http://www.transparentcorp.com/products/mindws

http://www.transparentcorp.com/products/mindws/overview.php

http://www.transparentcorp.com/products/mindws/features.php

Better yet, download it and try it out for yourself! http://www.transparentcorp.com/products/mindws/download.php

Regular posting will resume soon. A lot has happened in the entrainment and neuroscience world in the past few months, I just haven’t had time to write about it. :)

Short term vs long term meditation on attention and delta waves

The beneficial effects of meditation on general health are well known, but what is surprising to many researchers is its positive effect on attention.

Australian Neuroscientist Dylan DeLosAngeles measured the brainwaves of a 13-person meditation group as they progressed through five different meditative states. He expected to find a brain pattern that slowly moved toward sleep, or increased Delta waves.

Instead, he found that Delta waves actually decreased. The brainwaves of these meditators indicated a calm, attentive mind, as opposed to a sluggish or dazed one. Alpha waves increased during the first states of meditation analyzed, and later decreased as the meditators moved on to other states.

Last month another study was published on the meditation-attention link, this time analyzing the effects on inexperienced students after just 5 days of meditation training.  This is unique because most of research so far has been focused on experienced meditators.

Here is what they found:

Recent studies suggest that months to years of intensive and systematic meditation training can improve attention. However, the lengthy training required has made it difficult to use random assignment of participants to conditions to confirm these findings. This article shows that a group randomly assigned to 5 days of meditation practice with the integrative body–mind training method shows significantly better attention and control of stress than a similarly chosen control group given relaxation training. The training method comes from traditional Chinese medicine and incorporates aspects of other meditation and mindfulness training. Compared with the control group, the experimental group of 40 undergraduate Chinese students given 5 days of 20-min integrative training showed greater improvement in conflict scores on the Attention Network Test, lower anxiety, depression, anger, and fatigue, and higher vigor on the Profile of Mood States scale, a significant decrease in stress-related cortisol, and an increase in immunoreactivity. These results provide a convenient method for studying the influence of meditation training by using experimental and control methods similar to those used to test drugs or other interventions.

This matches the subjective reports I’ve received from people over the years. It doesn’t take long to see a noticeable effect. This is great news for meditation newbies, but don’t discount the beneficial effects of a long-lasting daily meditation routine. Neuroscientist Richard Davidson, of the University of Wisconsin, studied both experienced and novice meditators. He found long-time meditators to be less susceptible to “attentional blink”, which means they are able to distinguish between two closely spaced objects where other people can not. He also found that extremely experienced meditators showed less brain activation in response to distracting sounds, while showing more activity than novices in regions related to concentration.

Weekly Brain Video: Memory techniques

Andi Bell isn’t an autistic savant. He wasn’t born with photographic memory. Yet, he is currently the reigning champion in the speed category of the World Memory Championships.

This is possible because of a memory technique Andi uses, which is explained in the following videos:

[YouTube]X-xl7_hdWZo[/YouTube]

Part 2:

[YouTube]9NROegsMqNc[/YouTube]

This technique reminds me a lot of Memory Pegs, which many of you may have already heard of.

The basic idea of these memory techniques is to associate a story or image with what you want to remember. The more humorous and outlandish the story, the better. For example, if I wanted to remember to buy turkey and paper towels at the store, I might picture a live turkey comically trying to escape from a wrap of paper towels.

I use this technique when I play Brain Age, which lists words much like the experiment in the above videos. I associate 2 words with something comical, and move to the next pair. Usually, I can remember all of them, and I certainly don’t have prodigious memory.

To me, the interesting and unique part about Andi Bell’s technique is the use of a familiar route to further reinforce the memory pathways. Start at the door of your house, associate a memory with it, walk into the foyer, associate a memory with that, walk through the living room, a new memory, and so on. This is brilliant.

Eye exercises provide 10% memory boost


A new study led by Dr. Andrew Parker of the Manchester Metropolitan University found that moving your eyes from side to side for 30 seconds every morning can enhance your memory by, on average, 10%.

He presented 102 university students with recordings of a male voice reading 20 lists of 15 words. The subjects were then handed a list of words and asked to pick out those that they had just heard. On average, the students who had moved their eyes from side to side performed 10 per cent better than the rest. Up and down eye movement was of no use at all to recall.

According to Parker, it can also improve the accuracy of your memory, or reduce “false” memories.

Contained within the lists were “lure” words that were not in the spoken list but were similar to some of those that were. Students who had moved eyes sideways were 15 per cent better at ignoring the misleading words.

Why would eye exercises improve memory? Dr. Parker explains: 

“One reason for this is that bilateral eye movements may improve our ability to monitor the source of our memories.” He said that people are often confused over whether a memory is real or imagined, such as whether a bill was paid or a door locked.

“The problem is to determine the source of one’s memory — real or imagined. Bilateral eye movements may help us to determine accurately the source of our memory”.

Horizontal eye movements are also theorized to enhance communication between the left and right brain hemispheres.

This reminds me of the controversial EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) technique for PTSD, which I admittedly don’t know a whole lot about.

It also reminds me of NLP eye-accessing cues, which also deals with memory.

I have been experimenting with this the last few days since reading the article. I can’t say I have found a major improvement in memory (but then, it is probably hard to consciously notice a 10% improvement in anything). I do, however, enjoy the feeling I get after 30 seconds of uninterrupted side-to-side eye movement. A meditation instructor I had years ago would use eye movement techniques to quickly enter an alpha state.

Here’s the full article: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/health/article1750866.ece

Alpha’s involvement in memory, and how 10 hz flicker can improve it

It is well known that episodic memory – the ability to recall events, times and places – degrades as we get older. What is interesting is that the strength of Alpha rhythms in the brain also decreases with age, and falls sharply with diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

This is important because alpha is theorized to be intimately involved in the encoding of certain types of memories. It has been well known for some time that drugs used to modulate slow rhythmic EEG activity can actually enhance memory. More recently, brain stimulation in the form of a flicker is showing even greater promise in this area, and is offering the incredible possibility of a completely drug-free solution to age-related memory problems.

In March of 2006, a paper was published in BMC Neuroscience which outlined the effects a 10 hz flicker had on a difficult memory task, showing very promising results. The performance of older participants on memory tasks was as low as would be expected given their advancing years. However, once the Alpha stimulation was introduced, their memory performance shot up to that of typical young adults!

 

The Method 

Unlike many of the effects produced by audio-visual stimulation, this one seems to be extremely frequency specific. A mere .5 hz difference between flicker rates made the difference between a positive effect and no effect at all. 10 hz and 10.2 hz seem to be the “magic” frequencies studied in this paper.

Also interesting is the duration of the flicker: only 1 second! Participants were asked to memorize words as they appeared on the screen. Before each item was presented, a 1 second burst of 10 hz alpha stimulation was administered using LED lights, set up in their peripheral vision.

 

Why would such a brief stimulation period have any effect?

The study mentions that this could be because alpha’s involvement in memory formation is exceptionally brief. For a rapid moment as memories form, Alpha synchronizes. The theory is that short bursts of alpha stimulation increases this synchronizing effect, leading to enhanced memory. The hippocampus, which is involved in memory formation, may be the brain structure that makes this possible. There is evidence that slow-wave activity of this type seen in the hippocampus facilitates memory formation.

On the other hand, the study also notes that the duration between flickers was also very brief, so the alpha-inducing effects could have carried over from item to item. The effects of longer durations, and any long-term effects of this stimulation, have yet to be studied. Still, this is all very promising, especially since we know from other research that long-term, permanent alpha enhancement is very possible.

 

Other interesting tidbits about this research:

· The flicker’s effect does not appear to be retroactive. In other words, it was only AFTER the flicker that memory appeared to be enhanced. Memories encoded before the flicker were unaffected.

· The brightness of the LEDs correlated with greater effects. The brighter the LEDs, the more enhanced memory became. 

· The memory-enhancing effects seemed more pronounced in the elderly, but the study did mention previous work that indicated alpha also enhanced memory in young adults!

· Other previous studies have indicated that theta stimulation could improve memory consolidation after learning has already taken place.

 

Here is the paper, if you are interested in taking a look for yourself: http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/1471-2202-7-21.pdf

 

The best part about this study is that the LED lights were positioned around the eyes, not in their direct line of sight. In fact, some participants didn’t even notice them!

This has encouraged me to start using the new open-eye glasses more:

 

 

Thoughts on the emerging “Brain Fitness” movement and Brainwave Entrainment for seniors

There is a rapidly growing interest in brain fitness today. The aging baby boomer generation is feeling the effects of time, and many are perhaps interested in repairing the damage made by overindulgence in the 60’s. ;) Research over the past few decades has indicated strong links between an active brain and defense against age-related mental deterioration, including the ability to stave off diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

The industry is seeing a boom of new companies, and a lot of related research appears to be in the works. A new study from the University of California-Irvine analyzed the ability of regular mental workouts to delay the progress of Alzheimer’s in hundreds of mice (I know what you’re thinking: how do you give a rat a mental workout?! – I was hoping it would be something innovative, but apparently they just used the traditional rat maze). Another study funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), analyzed the effect of a mere 10 sessions of cognitive skills training on the elderly, showing significant increases in the ability to succeed in daily tasks such as driving and managing finances. The cognitive improvements held for nearly a year, after only 10 initial sessions! Very promising.

Because of this large emerging market for cognitive improvements, we’re seeing a lot of new faces pop up in the industry. Sharp BrainsRocky Mountain Learning, Posit Science and Vigorous Mind all offer affordable software for brain exercise. Happy Neuron and My Brain Trainer offer online-based “mind gyms” and brain fitness advice. There are probably many more I’m not aware of yet. Many are boasting studies with very promising results, such as a study on Happy Neuron that showed an increase in brain activity confirmed by PET scans. Many of these companies also have Neuroscientists in advisory positions, or on staff like we do.

These programs use puzzles, games and brain teasers to focus the mind on tasks involving memory, attention or complex use of language. Some also integrate nutritional advice and even regular meditation into the regimen, such as the Happy Neuron mentioned above.

The interest in brain fitness is not just on the fringe, or relegated to concerned baby boomers. Some large, established companies are investing in this, and marketing to all ages. Notably, Nintendo recently released a game called “Brain Age”, meant to exercise and sharpen the mind in a fun, entertaining way. You can find this title today in nearly every gaming store.

Of course I am hoping that all this interest in puzzles and games is going to carry over to Neurofeedback and Brainwave Entrainment (BWE), which have also shown great promise with age-related mental problems, as much as they have with ADD. In 1998 Thomas Budzynski, Ph.D. used both Neurofeedback and BWE to vastly improve the cognitive function of a 75 year old man. In 2001, Budzynski and Tang successfully treated 31 seniors by randomly stimulating frequencies ranging from 9-22 hz over about 33 sessions. In a 2004 study by Berg and Siever, 18 hz was stimulated in the left hemisphere and 10 hz in the right, resulting in significant improvements in geriatric depression and balance. Our own Dr. Huang has a great interest in cognitive decline and aging, having focused much of her early neuroscience work on related subjects. You can find a session designed for seniors in our Neuro-Programmer product.

Baby boomers are not just seeking out mental exercise either. American Sports Data reports that Gym memberships for people over 55 have seen a surge of 33%, while memberships among the younger crowd has seen nearly no growth over the same time period. Yoga and Tai Chi have grown 118%, cycling by 66%, elliptical training by 306% – the list goes on and on. The importance of exercise to mental health should not be underestimated. In fact there is some controversy over whether “brain fitness” games offer more mental benefits than a regular physical fitness routine, although there seems to be very little argument that combining both physical and mental fitness into any lifestyle will result in dramatic enhancement of the brain’s capabilities.

Speaking of games and exercise, as the “Nintendo generation” loses its high metabolism, many companies are working to combine gaming with physical exercise as well. I will admit that I own a Game Bike and couldn’t live without it. I have heard that a game-based tread mill is also in the works.

If you’re interested, here is a free online guide to maintaining brain fitness: http://www.thirdage.com/living/games/brainfitness/index.html