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Want a better brain?

Laura Mann

Want a better brain?” asks the commercial voice-over. “Lumosity can help.” The screen shows a fresh-faced, hip young woman who wants help remembering people’s names. The voice-over continues explaining that Lumosity uses the “science of neuroplasticity” to tailor a brain-training program that will help with memory, learning, and productivity, in a way that “feels like games.”
Well-dressed people in glasses (because they’re smart!) smiling happily, telling us that they have found the key to being smarter, isn’t the most subtle persuasive tactic. But, since neuroplasticity is an integral part of the science of creativity, we were intrigued.
The Lumosity website is simple. Click on a big orange button and your “personalized” training program begins by asking, “Do you want to learn new subjects quickly and accurately? Do you want to maintain focus? Develop your decision-making skills?” Yes, yes, and yes! Odds are, few people would say, “Well, I would like to improve my concentration, but I don’t really want to improve my decision-making.”
We took the questionnaire seriously and clicked on every option presented. We were then led to the sign-up page.
No surprise — it’s not free. But fortunately UK-based Guardian reporter Elizabeth Day signed up for Lumosity and wrote about it in an article titled “Online Brain Training: Does It Really Work?” What she found doesn’t surprise us at all.

‘Stretching’ our brains

Neuroplasticity is the idea that our brain changes and adapts throughout our lives, and we can, to an extent, control how this happens. For example, if you went blind, your senses of hearing, smell, and touch would work harder to compensate and thus become better developed, like a muscle after exercise. The theory behind Lumosity is that if you exercise your memory and concentration, these attributes will become more pronounced. While exercising your brain is good, why pay someone else to do it?

Take a walk with the kids and explore a part of your neighborhood you have never been to.

For instance, one Lumosity test involves calculating a restaurant tip. Instead of paying Lumosity, why not go to a restaurant, calculate the tip on your own, check your results on your smartphone, and spend your money on a delicious meal?
The key to neuroplasticity can be encompassed in one word: frustration. If you want to be good at problem solving, you have to practice dealing with the frustration that comes with getting stuck on a problem. Think of the frustration involved in calculating that tip as weight training for your brain. The next time you do it, you will be that much better at it. Your brain adapts.

Five free ways to train your brain

1. Pay in cash at the store, and have your kids calculate payments and change. Paying in cash is also a great way to stay away from the downside of credit cards, and help maintain a budget.
2. Take a new route to work. Your brain is forced to adapt and work a little harder when presented with anything outside the routine. Take a walk with the kids and explore a part of your neighborhood you have never been to.
3. Watch a foreign movie without English subtitles. Learn the basics of interacting in another language. Your brain is bombarded with new sights, sounds, and methods of interacting; this is heavy lifting for brain training.
4. Spend a few minutes putting something down on a piece of paper, without planning what it’s going to be. Draw a picture, write random words, or draw what you see in the room around you. If you are a terrible artist or a poor speller, it’s even better. This activity is especially great for kids.
5. Do your own taxes. If you want frustration, look no further than the good old IRS! Read the instructions, take notes, and try doing the math problems from scratch. You can check your results against readily available tax software.
Remember, practice makes improvement. You shouldn’t have to pay anyone to improve your brain when life provides so many free opportunities.
Laura Mann graduated in Emerging Media and Communications from the University of Texas, and writes for The Dallas Observer. She also provides media assistance to the MediaWise Movement.
© Michael Mann, 2013, all rights retained. Printed by permission of the author.

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