Best Practices in Brain Training

Training Transferability

Posted by on Dec 7, 2013 in Blog, Best Practices in Brain Training

This entry is part 11 of 17 in the series Best Practices in Brain Training

Reviews of studies focused on brain training in order to improve the cognitive abilities of adults so far revealed little or an absence of positive transfer to non-practised tasks. Lövdén et al. (2010) helped to demystify the long-held misconception about the transfer of learning: “In our view, past interpretations of transfer effects and debates on the extent to which learning transfers to untrained tasks are blurred by confusing the difference between alterations in process efficiency and the acquisition of knowledge with the issue of generality” (Lövdén, Bäckman, Lindenberger, Schaefer, & Schmiedek, 2010, p. 668). Research indicates that video games, music and sports experience facilitate the development of general cognitive skills that are broadly transferable (Green & Bavelier, 2008).

John Arden has studied the brain functions and the optimal conditions that are conducive for the rewiring of the brain. He has proposed a method of rewiring the brain, which he named FEED, as in feeding the brain. This method includes four steps (Arden, 2010, p. 17):

  • Focus;
  • Effort;
  • Effortlessness; and
  • Determination. 


The purpose of the “focus” step is to open the gate to make the brain more receptive for rewiring. Attention must be directed and concentrated to the situation, new behavior or memory that must be repeated or changed in order to activate the frontal lobes. According to Arden, focus helps to direct attention to: “what’s happening here and now, and this starts the process of neuroplasticity” (p. 18). In other words: “focus gets the ball rolling” (p. 18). This relates to Thorndike’s law of readiness to learning.


Effort that shifts attention from perception to action must be exercised to activate neuroplasticity. Effort triggers the brain that you are learning something new and that it needs to use a lot of glucose in order to establish new synaptic connection. Glucose is the energy, which fuels the brain (Arden, 2010).


To learn a new skill requires focus and effort which trigger your brain to deploy more energy to make the necessary synaptic connections. Once the brain has been rewired and the skill has been acquired, performance becomes effortless. To achieve the state of effortlessness, a newly learned skill must be practiced and honed until it becomes fairly automatic. Albert Einstein is quoted for saying “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer’’. Arden (2010) provides a vivid description of the concept of effortlessness:

“The body and the brain follow natural laws, and the natural law that applies to the concept of effortlessness is called the Law of the Conservation of Energy. This means that the things that happen are usually things that happen easily. For example, all water flows downhill. The deeper the creek, the more water flows in it. The same is true for the brain: the more you use certain brain cells together, the more you will use them in the future” (Arden, 2010, p. 19).


Although you cannot unlearn what you have learned, the connection can become weaker according to the law of disuse. However, practice will keep the brain wired to perform acquired skills. To stay in practice with over training (practice beyond successful performance), will help to maintain fluency (responding accurately, quickly and without hesitation) and automaticity (perform skills without conscious attention) (Dougherty & Johnston, 1996, p. 1-3). Determination completes the rewiring process (Arden, 2010).

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Sustainability of Brain Training

Posted by on Dec 7, 2013 in Blog, Best Practices in Brain Training

This entry is part 10 of 17 in the series Best Practices in Brain Training

While progress in neuroscience supports the effectiveness of brain training interventions among adults, little is known regarding the maintenance of those training effects over time. Sustained efforts may be required to maintain cognitive skills acquired through training (Hertzog et al., 2008).       


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Effects of Music and Learning

Posted by on Dec 7, 2013 in Blog, Best Practices in Brain Training

This entry is part 9 of 17 in the series Best Practices in Brain Training

Listening to music can provoke emotional response (Wan & Schlaug, 2010). Research has shown that listening to some types of music can enhance the learning process by activating task-relevant brain areas (Jausovec, Jausovec, & Gerlic, 2006). However, best practices suggest that a quiet environment is more conducive to effective learning. Music should not compete with learning tasks. If it is absolutely necessary to have music, use a regular pattern which is less attention-grabbing and play the same piece repeatedly (Howard, 2006). 

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Effects of Feedback

Posted by on Dec 7, 2013 in Best Practices in Brain Training

This entry is part 8 of 17 in the series Best Practices in Brain Training

Conventional wisdom suggests that regular feedback and rewards should be provided to learners since knowledge of results is motivating. There is also the assumption that corrective feedback allows learners to reflect on errors and assumptions and revise their thinking (Howard, 2006). However, research regarding the effects of feedback on learning is inconclusive regarding the necessity of feedback. The utility of feedback seems to be dependent on the interaction of the learner’s characteristics and the type or feedback (Green & Bavelier, 2008). There are some indications regarding the differential effects of the types of reinforcements on field-dependent and field-independent learners. Immediate negative reinforcement impacts more on the field-dependent learners than on the field-independent learners and results in better learning. On the other hand, positive reinforcement appears to have little effect on either type of learner. Additionally, research has shown that general approval appears to have no noticeable effect on field-dependent learners, while disapproval has a negative effect on their performance (Chinien, 1987).  

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Effects of Arousal

Posted by on Dec 7, 2013 in Blog, Best Practices in Brain Training

This entry is part 7 of 17 in the series Best Practices in Brain Training

Research indicates that extremely low and extremely high levels of arousal result in poor learning gain. Extremely low arousal results in errors of omission – being forgetful and unable to focus and concentrate on important things. Over-aroused individuals tend to lose proper restraint and act impulsively (Howard, 2006). Instruction should be engineered to generate the optimal level of arousal (Green & Bavelier, 2008). Apparently, the optimal level of arousal is task dependent. A high level of arousal works best for simple tasks, while a low level of arousal is more appropriate when performing complex tasks (Howard, 2006). 

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Effects of Motivation

Posted by on Dec 7, 2013 in Blog, Best Practices in Brain Training

This entry is part 6 of 17 in the series Best Practices in Brain Training

The optimal condition for effective learning is when the performance task is challenging but still doable. This assumption draws its roots from Vygotsky’s “zone of proximal development” (Vygotsky, 1978). This theory posits that in order to achieve the highest level of motivation and the most efficient learning, the level of difficulty of the performance must be engineered so that it is slightly above the ability level of the learners (Green & Bavelier, 2008).

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