Closing the Loop between the Brain and Education: Dr. Adam Gazzaley at TEDxASB

Closing the Loop between the Brain and Education: Dr. Adam Gazzaley at TEDxASB


Translator: Tanya Cushman
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven My name is Joseph Cubas. I’m the director of institutional
advancement here at ASB. It is my pleasure to introduce
Dr. Adam Gazzaley. Dr. Gazzaley obtained
an MD and PhD in neuroscience at the Mount Sinai School
of Medicine in New York City, completed clinical residency in neurology
at the University of Pennsylvania and postdoctoral training
in cognitive neuroscience at UC Berkeley. He is the founding director
of the neuroscience imaging center at UC San Francisco and associate professor in neurology,
physiology and psychiatry and principal investigator
of a cognitive neuroscience laboratory. His research has significantly
expanded our understanding of alterations in the aging brain
that lead to cognitive decline. His most recent studies explore how we may enhance our cognitive abilities
and/or prevent them from declining in various neuropsychiatric conditions via engagement with
custom-designed video games. Dr. Gazzaley has authored
over 70 scientific articles and delivered over 250 presentations around the world. Recently, he wrote and hosted the nationally televised,
PBS-sponsored special “The Distracted Mind
with Dr. Adam Gazzaley.” Awards and honors for his research include the Pfizer/AFAR
Innovations in Aging Award, the Ellison Foundation
New Scholar Award in Aging and the Harold Brenner Pepinsky
Early Career Award in neurobehavioral science. Tonight, Dr. Gazzaley will present novel insights
on a mutlimodal educational approach directed at the fundamental
information processing systems of the brain. His talk will include a discussion of the potential use
of action video game mechanics, neurofeedback and direct-brain stimulation to drive neuroplasticity
during the learning process. Please join me in welcoming Dr. Gazzaley. (Applause) Hello, everyone.
It’s a pleasure to be here. I want to start by considering how education might benefit
from coming to the time period that we can now use
the breakthroughs in neuroscience and inspirations to guide the educational process itself. We know that the brain,
in all its wondrous complexity, is essentially an information processing system whose primary function
is to receive information and guide our interactions
with the environment. However, education
is a multifaceted endeavor. That we know. I propose that enhancing
the core cognitive operations that guide cognition
in its most fundamental form should be a core part
of our education system. Let’s first pause and consider what education and cognition
really have in common. We know that the neural processes used
to organize information are the fundamentals of cognition. And this can be broken down
into several demands: the selection of information is attention; interpretation of information, or perception; retaining and retrieving information as memory; reasoning based on information
is decision making; and actions, based on information
in the form of our motor responses and speech output,
which is part of our language. These are all the essence
and the fundamentals of how cognition is constructed and how it emerges
from these properties of our brain. If we’re going to consider
that cognitive enhancement should be a core aspect
of our education system, I think we’ll benefit
from taking a step back and looking at the larger landscape
that comprises cognitive enhancement so we can make decisions
about anything on this list that might play a role
in the educational system. This would be an example of how
education and cognitive enhancement might work together, and that is the amplification, or extension, of core abilities of the mind via augmentation of information
processing systems. So let’s take a look at the landscape that currently exists
to enhance cognition. Education itself exists when it’s doing
a strong job at improving these abilities. But also things like meditation,
cognitive training, enriched environments, these ways of interacting with
our environments in very targeted ways have been shown to improve cognition. There’s another way, action video games – I’ll tell you some data about that – that has also been shown to have
strong impacts on cognitive abilities. We have also developed drugs – sometimes for the purpose and sometimes as a side-effect
that was not planned – that have been shown
to increase cognition: Ritalin, Adderall, Modafinil, Aricept. These medications
have largely been developed with neuropsychiatric conditions in mind. For instance, Alzheimer’s
disease and ADHD. However, we should be aware
that many of these drugs, for example, Adderall, are used frequently on college campuses
to improve cognition or at least to try to. So we should be aware that medications
may have a role in this. The other recent finding, and one that is becoming
more and more frequent in the literature, is that things that we do to help our body
also help our brains. So physical exercise and nutrition
have been shown, through very nice work, to also be cognitive enhancers. Neurofeedback – there’s an interesting line
of research that shows that if we can be made aware
of our own brain signals and we can guide our training regiment,
using it as a feedback routine, and this has been shown
to also improve cognitive abilities. Neuromodulation – neuromodulation is the direct
stimulation of the brain, either with a magnetic field
in transcranial magnetic stimulation or with a direct electrical current that’s known as transcranial
direct current stimulation. This is done at the level of the scalp
to change activity within the brain. Another approach
is brain-computer interfaces, which is usually done
for more extreme conditions and medical conditions, and this is where an actual electrode
is placed inside the brain to stimulate it to improve cognitive abilities
and other types of neural functioning. And, perhaps, the most extreme
is actually genetic modifications. So I’m not going to propose that all these should be part
of our educational system, but we should be aware
of the landscape that exists. I’m now going to tell you
about some research in our lab that combines three of these – action video games, neurofeedback
and neuromodulation – in an approach that I call
“closing the loop.” So I’m going to take you
through some of this right now. But first we want to pause
and talk about video games. So, as we know, video games are one
of the most powerful forms of media. And why is that? Well, they’re interactive –
that’s probably number one. But they also turn out to be
reasonably fun, which is another part
of what makes them so ubiquitous in their uptake around the world. So we’re seeing an increase
in video games being played by both genders and across all ages. I want to tell you about
one specific type of video game. Video games is a large field, but what I want to talk about
are action video games and the last decade of research
that’s made some very surprising findings. So work largely done by Daphne Bavelier
and her colleagues over the last 10 years has shown that action video games can actually have the impact of improving
attentional and perceptual abilities. This includes resistance of distraction,
an increase in the capacity of attention and even a visual ability
known as contrast sensitivity. This has been first shown in young adults
that played a lot of video games compared to those that did not. You can see these
rather startling differences when you look at laboratory tests
of attention and distraction resistance. But in probably more powerful studies,
comparisons have been made on training young adults
that did not have video-game experience. And this was either done
with a first-person shooter game, which is sort of the characteristic
of an action video game, or Tetris. What they found in this study, with even just a short period
of training – ten hours of games play – it’s the group that played
Medal of Honor, in this study, that showed these improvements
in these same abilities that those young adults that played these
for extensive periods of time compared to the control group,
which was Tetris. So we know that there’s
some aspect of these games – presumably the high
interference involvement, the need to distribute attention, the high reward and emotional aspects
that drive the dopamine system – that really lead to these
to have a strong impact on cognition. Some interesting data
that’s come out more frequently that shows that the brains of young adults
that are heavy video game players versus those that are not show some very distinct differences
when you record brain activity while they’re doing
a high-demand cognitive task. So we see that action video gamers
process distracting information less, meaning that they suppress
that information that’s irrelevant, and they engage less brain areas,
as you can see in this image here, when they’re doing more demanding tasks, indicating that they’re more efficient
at how they use their brain when something is very challenging. I want to now tell you about some work
that we’re doing in our laboratory, where we’re interested
in designing customized games to target neural processes
and information processing resources and see if we can improve
cognitive abilities after our participants
in our research study spent some time engaging in these tasks. So this game that I’m going to show now
was developed in our lab five years ago. What you can see here is a car
is being driven by a participant. It’s winding. There are hills. It’s very hard to do this. And then they’re making
decisions about these signs. They’re only responding
to the green circles – this is a perceptual discrimination task – and they’re ignoring other signs
like this green pentagon, which is actually very hard to ignore. So what we have
are participants in this study that are engaging in two streams
of information processing with two tasks that have
independent goals. And this would fall into the class of test
known as “multitasking.” And what we’ve recently found
in a group of older adults that trained on this type of video game, that we can improve
their ability to multitask but also their ability
to sustain attention on different tasks as well as their working memory. So we have many other experiments
in our laboratory ongoing to look at how these games
could have strong impact – not just on older adults
but on children as well. I now want to take a look at – So one thing that we’re doing is we’re trying to develop video games
that can leave the laboratory and be more accessible. So what you can see in this image here is an iPad that shows
a different version of the game that was adopted to be more accessible
using a mobile platform. Another goal of ours is to see
if we can maintain the fun and engagement, including for children
to be immersed in these games without having the violence. So increasing the amount
of art and music and story so that they are engaging and fun. But one very important aspect
that we develop in all of these games is adaptivity. And by that I mean that as the participant
plays the game in real time, the game becomes more difficult
as performance improves. What this does is it keeps the person
engaged in the game right on that perfect sweet spot, where it’s not too hard
that they’re frustrated, it’s not too easy that they’re bored. And this really challenges
their abilities, and, we think, maximally drives
neuroplasticity in their brain and improves their cognition. So this is what I mean
by closing the loop. We have the brain on one side, and when you make a decision,
it guides your behavior, and then this influences the game. The game reacts adaptively
in real time to challenge you, which changes the environment, and then cycles back to the brain
to close the loop and changes your brain. So this is this two-way road between how we interact
with our environment and an environment
that’s responsive to us – how it can act to change our brain. And this has been the large majority
of the research we’ve done in this field. One thing that we’re interested in now
is actually creating a neural loop. And I’m going to show you
what I mean by that. It’s meant to act in complement
to that loop I’ve already described. So how we do this is we first have our participants
in our laboratory play these video games while we record
brain activity in real time. So this is an example of someone playing a game
with the high density EEG cap. This records the electrical
activity in the brain. And we can see
what are the neural markers while someone is engaging in the game that is related to their performance,
their high level of performance. One marker that I want to mention to you
is known as “midline frontal theta.” It’s a low-frequency oscillation
that we can pick up with EEG that we’ve shown now, in our laboratory, is related to performance. So when this measure is higher, when one of those signs come up,
you do better on the task. And we could see that this measure
decreases as you get older, and that’s also related
to the change of performance. We can also see
that when we train a brain, it’s these very measures
that seem to improve along with their performance on the task. So we have a marker in the brain
that tells us the depth of engagement that someone that’s playing this game
is investing into the task, and it’s related to their performance. Another study in the lab is to use direct current
stimulation to the brain to see if we could change plasticity. So what you’re looking at here is transcranial direct current
stimulation cap, and what this is is an amazing phenomena that there’s now
a wealth of data revealing, that if you stimulate the brain
through the scalp with even the power of a 9-volt battery and you have someone engaged in a task, the rate of learning is faster. So what we’re interested in, Can you use the dynamics
of the video game, and the mechanics, to feedback and stimulate the brain
to encourage plasticity? And so what you can see here is the behavioral and environment loop
that I already traced, and that’s something
that we’re already working very hard on. But you can imagine
that if neural data is being stimulated and then applied
into the software platform, the game would change in response
to what is going on in your brain. So, example – if attention deviates, the game can change its mechanics
to pull you back in and to really help you learn
how to control your attention in a goal-directed way. On the other side of the loop, a game could be used
to stimulate the brain to lead to stimulation in select areas, also to improve plasticity
and to increase learning on this particular targeted mechanism. Now, I’m not suggesting that this type of approach
might be used in the classroom, although it might, but this might be the type of approach,
at least on the EEG side, that could be used at home to help improve, for example,
attentional abilities in someone that needs extra work. The other side,
the neural-stimulation side, that might be more reserved
for people that have brain disorders, where you really need
to encourage plasticity so that they can play –
you know, be on the same playing field and to have the same type of impact
from the educational system. So this just gives you a little bit
of an idea of where we can go. I think the most important point is to not think about all of these areas
that impact cognitive enhancement as silos, but to think about
how they could work together, such as meditation,
physical exercise, nutrition in addition to the type of examples
that I gave you today. So it is, I think, really relevant
for educators to realize that this is a lot of the directions
that neuroscience is taking to understand, really, how we can impact the basic mechanisms
that underlie cognition to improve them and lead to a big impact,
hopefully, on the quality of our lives. Thank you for your attention. (Applause)

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