A forthcoming feature for one of our sister publications, Chief Learning Officer, says “brain plasticity” means human intelligence always is a work in progress. The article, written by Donalee Markus, Ph.D., and Lindsey Paige Markus, J.D., states: “We do not have to lose our mental faculties as we grow older. Just as physical exercise can keep our bodies strong and healthy well into our senior years, mental exercises contribute to the preservation and vitality of our brains.”
The idea of “mental exercise” might seem strange. Brains can be used, developed, challenged, etc., but can they really be made to work out? Mental calisthenics? (Think, 2, 3, 4! Think, 2, 3, 4!).
Apparently so. One of the hottest video games released this year is “Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day!” for the recently released Nintendo DS Lite. The handheld DS Lite comes equipped with a microphone, supports a WiFi connection and has two screens, one of which is touch interactive.
“Brain Age” makes full use of this expanded functionality — users hold the console on its side, either left or right, and write or say their answers for a variety of brain-training activities. These tests determine the user’s “brain age,” and analyses of further mental exercises bring the user’s brain age up or down. You want to go down toward the lowest possible score — 20 years old — the healthiest a mind can get, at least in the context of the game.
(The first time I played the game was during a long afternoon in the midst of an oppressive heat wave. My brain age registered as 80, where it remains, unfortunately.)
The game is based on the ideas of Ryuta Kawashima, a Japanese neuroscientist who wrote a book called “Train Your Brain: 60 Days To A Better Brain.” More than a decade later, the CFO of Nintendo Japan read the book in the months leading up to the launch of DS Lite. The company wanted to develop a game that would appeal to nongamers, and representatives met with Kawashima and quickly formulated a way to adapt the ideas of the book for the DS Lite.
The saga of “Brain Age” is a good example of how tried and proven methods of learning can be adapted to new technology, in this case some of the most transportable, interactive and entertaining technology available. As certification moves into the next frontier in addressing issues such as distance training, the potential for interactivity and portability, the industry might want to take certain cues from the gaming community. Earlier this year, a study by the Federation of American Scientists found video games should be converted into serious learning tools, as games teach analytical thinking, team building, multitasking and problem solving under duress.
The entertaining epilogue to the “Brain Age” story is that earlier this year, Nintendo of America sent a DS Lite with a copy of the game in it to President Bush as a 60th birthday present with “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” written on the touch screen. It was accompanied by a letter that ended, “Be sure to let us know your brain age!”