“I do not try to dance better than anyone else. I only try to dance better than myself.”
Mikhail Baryshnikov

Developing Cognitive Skills

The primary principles involved in cognitive skill development are described in the following discussion.

Principle 1: Neuroplasticity.

The general term for the brain’s ability to change and to develop in response to its environment and the demands being placed on it is “neuroplasticity.” Essentially, our brains develop by organizing themselves, creating and pruning neural pathways, connections and networks in response to the environment and our individual experience. Brain development and specific patterns of neural connections are not genetically predetermined in the way that attributes like red hair or blue eyes are determined. While intellect and learning ability are guided by our genetic code, they arise in significant part through the process of development. The plasticity of the brain is greater in children, but the brain exhibits the ability to change and develop throughout life.

A number of recent studies have focused on the use of computerized techniques, especially video games, to deliver training that can leverage neuroplasticity to enhance brain function and have shown that learning from video games can transfer to nongame situations. For example, in one study, training designed to improve working memory (the ability to hold and manipulate information in the mind) was reflected in improvements in fluid intelligence. The study also documented a relationship between the amount of training and the magnitude of the improvement.

Principle 2: Automaticity.

Neuroscience has distinguished multiple types of memory, including declarative and procedural memory. When a certain set of steps or processes are performed repeatedly, the processes are embedded in procedural memory and do not require conscious thought to execute (like riding a bike or driving to a familiar location). When a skill or process becomes embedded in procedural memory, it is said to have become automatic. Neural connections are strengthened by repetition, leading to the ability to perform a function without consciously thinking about it and requiring less energy than if the skill is not automatic.

Our brains can only perform one skill consciously at a time. When multiple cognitive skills are required, as in most learning situations, all but one of those skills must be performed automatically, at the non-conscious level. When a skill becomes automatic and does not require conscious thought, it is possible for an individual to perform that skill at the same time as other skills. Basic skills, such as shifting our attention, keeping information in a sequence and  visual span (as examples) must be functioning at the automatic level in order to enable an individual to allocate conscious thought to other activities, such as learning, comparing, deciding, and planning drawing conclusions and the like.

Principle 3: Cognitive skills are highly integrated and interdependent, like a web.

Mental processing (cognitive) skills are highly integrated in effective brain functioning. When our brains perform a variety of automatic functions simultaneously, those activities must be coordinated to be effective (seeing and motor control, to give a simple example, in eye-hand coordination). If certain skills are weak or deficient, that will impact the efficiency of other mental processes and the overall effectiveness of mental functioning.

Repeating a single skill over and over can lead to improvement in that skill and ultimately automaticity, but the integration of multiple skills is what pushes critical skills more quickly to the nonconscious level. The approach of putting demands on multiple skills at the same time, referred to as “cognitive loading,” is exploited in BrainWare Safari in a comprehensive “cross-training” approach that integrates multiples skills within an exercise and across exercises.

Principle 4: The importance of the visual system.

Researchers estimate that 80% of what we learn involves our visual system. In fact, vision is by far the most dominant sense, taking up about half of the brain’s resources. Visual processing, visualization and spatial-temporal reasoning are vital in learning and thinking. The ability to transform thoughts into images is what drives new concepts, new ideas, new feelings, and ultimately new behaviors. It is said that Albert Einstein processed information primarily in images, and Beethoven was deaf, but could picture music in his mind.

BrainWare SAFARI puts particular emphasis on visual processing skills (including visual thinking) – developing the capabilities of the “mind’s eye” – and memory. Skills such as visual span (the use of peripheral vision involved for visual discrimination and/or scanning), visual figure-ground, visual sequential and simultaneous processing and visualization are all worked extensively in combination with attention, auditory, memory and reasoning skills.

Principle 5: The need for progressive and appropriately sequenced challenge.

Cognitive development occurs at the outer edges of our competence. Therefore, sequenced challenges that address the range of each individual’s strengths and weaknesses are required to provide the appropriate levels of challenge and intensity. If a task is too far above our current state of development, we will become frustrated and may not persist. If tasks are too easy, we become bored.

BrainWare Safari’s exercises are designed to build from relatively easy levels through more difficult ones. This helps to ensure that the user is working at an appropriate level of challenge and personalizes the experience in the sense that the user will be more challenged by and spend longer on the levels that address weaker processing areas and less time and effort on the exercises and levels that address areas of strength.  The freedom to move among exercises to develop skills in different ways and different combinations also helps the individual to optimize the level of intensity and challenge.  The exercises in BrainWare Safari were designed with the methodical sequencing need for “smart practice” (intense and rewarding repetition). Importantly, the program avoids the kind of predictable progression that would cause the brain would to lose interest and the necessary level of intensity. BrainWare Safari is designed to make the progression from one level to the next novel and interesting.

Principle 6: The importance of frequency and intensity.

Development of any physical or mental function requires the discipline of frequent challenge at an appropriate level of intensity. The brains of experts consume less energy to perform a practiced activity and, in fact, can often do the activity “without thinking” or without conscious evaluation. We may talk about “muscle memory” (for example for a concert pianist or Tiger Woods on the golf course) but we are actually describing the development of procedural memory in the brain. Frequent practice with intensity leads to automaticity of skills.

The recommended usage protocol for BrainWare Safari is 30 to 60 minutes, 3 to 5 times per week, for 10 to 12 weeks. This is the level of frequency and intensity that has been shown to drive rapid skill development and significant cognitive growth for the user. It may be desirable to adjust the recommended protocol for certain users, such as those with more severe learning difficulties, autism, or very young (the program is recommended for ages 6 and up through adults).

Principle 7: Feedback.

Immediate feedback is necessary to enable error correction and faster, more accurate learning. The speed of feedback also enables more repetitions to be executed in a given amount of time. In addition to the feedback overtly provided by a video game, there is evidence that success in a video game is related to release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is involved in learning and feelings of reward.

BrainWare provides immediate feedback to the user through various mechanisms built into the game. There is no waiting to have a challenge or level scored; the computer response is instantaneous. Positive encouragement is offered continuously as the user progresses through the program. At each challenge, at each level, and upon the completion of exercises, positive and entertaining messages are delivered and the character the player has chosen at the beginning grows, reflecting the development in cognitive skills the player is experiencing. Finally, in many of the settings in which BrainWare Safari is used (schools and various clinical therapies), a coach also plays a role in feedback and support.

Principle 8: Engagement (fun) is vital.

Stimulation is an important factor in motivating attention and meaningful participation in a learning activity. In fact, the science and education communities are increasingly recognizing the value of digital game-based learning (“DGBL”).  The compelling characteristics of good video games motivate initial engagement with a challenging activity and can help sustain motivation as the challenge progresses. Persistence motivated by a feedback loop reinforces and supports the natural mechanisms in the brain that reward us for accomplishing something challenging.

BrainWare incorporates multimedia video-gaming technology with entertaining themes, characters, animation, and interactive elements to stimulate interest. The inherently interesting features of the program help provide intrinsic motivation to persist and overcome more difficult levels. And, unlike many other mental fitness software programs, the exercises in BrainWare Safari are mutually reinforcing and supportive. As a result, when a user reaches a level in a particular exercise that seems extremely difficult, he/she can move to other exercises that help build those same skills in a slightly different way. Frequently upon returning to the troubling exercise, the user passes it with much less difficulty.

Success Stories from Our Users

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Homeschooling Parents Say ... One Product That Can Help All Three Sons

by Lisa M., Homeschooling Mother of 3 Boys

"I am so glad I purchased BrainWare Safari! My three sons can each work at their own pace, challenging themselves to do better at each level! It is helping one son with attention span, another with patience and diligence, and another with his focus and attention to detail. What a great thing to have one product that can help all three of my very individual sons! And, by the way although my oldest has not yet admitted to having fun, I find him smiling while working on the program!"

Parents Say ... You Can Give This Gift to Your Child

by Cheryl M. (Drew, Age 10)

"It's like the difference between taking your child to a music lesson and sitting and waiting or having the music teacher come to your house. You can manage it, you can get your hands around it, and you can give this gift to your child."

Educators Say ... A Very Important Resource Tool for Our Teachers

by Denise Kish, Principal, MI

"As a principal and curriculum director, I am always looking for what works in education to help each of our students learn faster, more easily and more comprehensively, so each student experiences success. We have found that BrainWare Safari works with students at any level, whether struggling or accelerated. All our students improved their cognitive abilities after completing the exercises in BrainWare Safari. I consider this program a very important tool for our teachers; it makes their jobs easier as they now have better performing students."

Adult Users Say ... If I’d Had It Earlier, School Would Have Been Much Less Difficult

by Joshua Woodward, MSW, Chicago, IL

"I spent the better part of my years in grammar school in "LD" classes, where I wasn't challenged. I suffered when I made the transition to "Mainstream" classes. My performance was average at best, but I was able to teach myself the necessary skills to be as successful as my peers and did the same at all of the subsequent transitions to junior high, high school, college and graduate school. After having worked through BrainWare Safari, I can attest to its usability as well as playability. Had I been given such a tool in my early stages of learning, i blelieve my time in school would have been less difficult."

Educators Say ... Helping Our Students Close Academic Gaps

by Anne Budicin, Resource Teacher, Glenwood School

"Because of our students' backgrounds, we are always striving to provide them with opportunities that close academic gaps and help them achieve their true potential. BrainWare Safari is an essential part of achieving this. It helped our students improve their shor-term, long-term and working memory. Teachers have seen improvement in attentiveness during lessons and noted better recall of information. Ultimately, BrainWare Safari helps to prepare our students for high school and beyond by bridging those gaps in achievement and cognitive processing."

Homeschooling Parents Say ... Bolstering Their Abillity in Foreign Language Learning

by Darlene B., Mother of 4 Children, Living Abroad

"Since our children have been using BrainWare Safari, I have noticed that their memory and attention abilities were dynamically increased. We live abroad and my children go to school in the host language. I feel that this program is significant in bolstering their ability to understand and problem solve, most particularly in difficult foreign-language learning situations. My children love the program. I can assure you that the activities stimulate their brains and the activities themselves draw them back. I highly recommend this."

Parents Say ... They’re Playing but They’re Really Learning

by John Y. (Kendall, Age 11, and Clay, Age 8)

"They think they're playing but they're really learning. The video-game format makes them want to play. We did BrainWare Safari for the learning aspect, but the game part really made them want to do it. It motivated them."

Parents Say ... I See My Daughter Making Gains

by Lisa E. (Kristi, Age 7)

"BrainWare Safari is not reading or math. Rather it teaches the skills necessary to learn. My daughter, who spent four and a half years in an institution in Russia, has completed 73 levels so far and is thrilled. She has even completed some areas with memory and sequencing, areas she was very weak in and thought she could not do. I see my daughter making gains on this versus other computer games she plays. This is unique."

Parents Say ... I Don’t Have to Repeat Myself

by Julie B. (Nicholas, Age 9)

"I'm happy with BrainWare Safari and I've watched Nick's progess. His attention is better. I think his memory is better too. But what I really notice is that I don't have to repeat myself 20 times to get him to do something."

Parents Say ... I Noticed A Difference in His Schoolwork

by Debra W. (Demar, Age 10

"I noticed a difference in his schoolwork. When I went in to see his teacher, she told me how well he was maturing, how well he'd done in his classes, and how easy it was for him to make progress. She now has to keep up with hin in his schoolwork. Before he was slower and afraid to make decisions. Now he makes decisions for both of us. He likes BrainWare Safari. I love it!"

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