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The Agile Mind$
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Wilma Koutstaal

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780195367188

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195367188.001.0001

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Making Brain Paths to Agile Thinking, Part 2

Making Brain Paths to Agile Thinking, Part 2

Direct Experimental Evidence

(p.526) 11 Making Brain Paths to Agile Thinking, Part 2
The Agile Mind

Wilma Koutstaal

Oxford University Press

This chapter first explores extensive experimental work that has been carried out on “environmental enrichment” with nonhuman animals, which has been fundamental in establishing causal connections between stimulating environments, behavioral flexibility, and corresponding brain changes. It then turns to the multiple, often highly innovative and creative, approaches that have been adopted in the effort to examine plasticity of brain function in humans, in relation to experimentally assigned sensory-motor and cognitive interventions. Included here are physical and cardiovascular fitness interventions, training in deliberate recollection in older individuals and of working memory in younger and older adults, and training of attention in young children. Two additional sections consider the benefits for flexible cognition that may be derived from, on the one hand, playing certain forms of real-time video games and, on the other hand, certain forms of experiences with the natural environment. An experimental intervention with older individuals based on multimodal engagement in novel activities designed to invite playful and imaginative participation points toward further promising approaches. The chapter also considers a recent speculative theoretical proposal regarding the linkages between stimulating physical activity and the generation of new neurons (neurogenesis), particularly in the hippocampal dentate gyrus. It suggests that, broadly speaking, diverse forms of cognitive and other stimulation may be seen as extending our “exemplar space” of objects, events, people, qualities, and so on, thereby increasing the range of instances and sets of instances that we can draw upon in thinking, reasoning, and acting.

Keywords:   environmental enrichment, brain plasticity, flexible cognition, interventions, stimulating physical activity, neurogenesis

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