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stairs-to-anspirition-4-clRegardless of age, your grey matter has the ability to shrink or thicken; new neurons and new neural pathways (connections) are created throughout your life. When you have a new experience or think in new ways, new pathways are formed. Changes in the physical brain are manifested in changes in our abilities. For instance, if you learn a new word, it reflects a change in your physical brain. With repetition, this pathway is strengthened. 

Scientists once believed that mental abilities were fixed in adulthood. Studies on neuroplasticity, which suggest that the brain can change and reorganise itself  given the right kinds of challenges, have shown just the opposite. We tend to focus on physical fitness, but research shows that the way we use and care for our brain can increase its innate neuroplasticity – its ability to grow and change in response to new challenges. In other words, the right types of stimulating exercises can physically alter your brain. As in physical exercise, if we remain at the same level of training and repeat the same exercises over and over, it will cease to be a challenge. Similarly, in brain training, we have to keep raising the bar; once the easy exercises have been mastered, you must move on to harder ones in order to push your brain – like your muscles – to a higher level.

A 2008 study by psychologist Susanne Jaeggi concluded that memory training increased intelligence, and implied that a person could increase their IQ by a full point per hour of training. However, this was not substantiated by psychologists at Georgia Tech who tried to replicate these findings with tougher controls. Another study which was conducted by the Stanford University School of Medicine in 2012 showed that training can improve the brain’s executive functions like working memory, task-switching, planning and attention. Better attention, for example, can lead to greater focus. With improved processing speed, you are able to recognise, react and adapt to changing conditions.

Companies like Jungle Memory, Nintendo and Cogni Fit, which develop puzzles and games based on neuroscience, are multimillion dollar businesses. Lumosity, an internet provider of brain training, has grown by 150% every year since its launch in 2005, and has a reach of 35 million people globally; a testament to the fact that ‘brain training’ is gaining traction.

However, the goal of brain training is not to improve game scores: neuroscientists design brain games to improve the underlying core abilities that those games rely on, like exercising memory and attention. Hence, incorporating a ‘mental workout’ in your daily regime can have a long lasting impact on your performance.

– Fauzia Kerai Khan                                                                                                The writer is Chief Consultant, i&b Consulting,Training, e-Learning.

First published in the Careers Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on March 30, 2014.