Video games may help to improve short-term memory and focused attention
Drugs, technology and video games – their influences on our brain and its functions stand at the core of Baroness Susan Greenfield scientific work. The professor of pharmacology at the University of Oxford worries about the future capability of actual understanding information and critisizes the wide spread use of lifestyle drugs especially in schools, but she sees hope in video games fighting degenerative effects on the brain.
What is your point of view on the use of lifestyle drugs?
Baroness Susan Greenfield: There are reports of an alarming increase in the use of prescribed and black market drugs medicating the classroom, whether it be Ritalin for enhancing concentration, Prozac for enhancing mood or Pro-vigil for extending alert wakefulness. The problem with these drugs is that they do not target a single trait, such as mood, or concentration, or wakefulness - partly because we do not yet understand how these functions are generated as a cohesive operation in the brain. Rather, drugs manipulate, in a very broad way, the chemicals in the brain. And that, in turn, could have widespread and long-lasting effects.
In the day and age of the Internet, information is one mouse-click away. Is traditional learning a thing of the past?
No, on the contrary. When you read a book, the author usually takes you by the hand and you travel from the beginning to the middle to the end in a continuous narrative of interconnected steps. It may not be a journey with which you agree, or one that you enjoy, but none the less, as you turn the pages, one train of thought succeeds the last in a logical fashion. We can then compare one narrative with another and, in so doing, start to build up a conceptual framework that enables us to evaluate further journeys, which, in turn, will influence our individualised framework. We can place an isolated fact in a context that gives it a significance. So traditional education has enabled us to turn information into knowledge.
We have access to unlimited and up-to-date information at the touch of a button, but in this new, answer-rich world, surely we must ensure that we are able to pose appropriate, meaningful questions?
Some neurologists consider video games as a danger to the developing brain. Your helping to promote the game «MindFit», why?
There is evidence that stimulation through the use of «MindFit» prompts brain cells to start branching out and form new connections with other cells. The results showed as well that while all the volunteers benefited from using computer games, the «MindFit» users experienced significantly greater improvement in short-term memory, visuo-spatial learning and focused attention.
What can we look forward to in your speech in Lucerne?
My main focus will be on the impact of technology. How will we think, how will we learn in the future? I will explore these questions and hopefully provide some insight.
Baroness Prof. Dr. Susan Greenfield is Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Oxford, Director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, Fullerian Professor of Physiology, Senior Research Fellow Lincoln College and Honorary Fellow, St. Hilda's College.
Susan Greenfield was both an undergraduate and graduate at Oxford, but has subsequently spent time in postdoctoral research at the College de France, Paris, with Professor J Glowinski and at the New York University Medical Centre, New York, with Professor R Llinas. As a consequence of working in both biochemical and electrophysiological environments she has developed a multidisciplinary approach to exploring novel neuronal mechanisms in the brain that are common to regions affected in both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. The basic theme of her research is to develop strategies to arrest neuronal death in these disorders.
She is also co-founder of a university spin-out company specialising in novel approaches to neurodegeneration,– Synaptica Ltd. In addition, Professor Greenfield has a supplementary interest in the neuroscientific basis of consciousness, and accordingly has written 'Journey to the Centres of the Mind Toward a Science of Consciousness' (1995) W H Freeman Co, and 'Private Life of the Brain' (2000) Penguin. Her latest book ‘Tomorrow’s People: How 21st Century technology is changing the way we think and feel’ (Penguin 2003), explores human nature, and its potential vulnerability in an age of technology.
The British newspaper «Guardian» has called Professor Greenfield one of the
50 most powerful women of Britain.
Baroness Greenfield was voted «Woman of the Year» by «The Observer» in 2000.
Baroness Prof. Dr. Susan Greenfield, University of Oxford
Opening Speaker «The Future of Brain, the Brain of the Future»
Hotel Schweizerhof, Lucerne
November 19, 2007, at 19.00h