Study finds how people’s everyday habits improve cognitive function
Regular activities like drinking coffee and listening to music can influence a person's brain activity in ways that enhance cognitive function, notably in tasks requiring focus and memory.
NEW YORK: Regular activities like drinking coffee and listening to music can influence a person's brain activity in ways that enhance cognitive function, notably in tasks requiring focus and memory.
That is the conclusion of a recent study conducted at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering using the ground-breaking brain-monitoring technology MINDWATCH.
The MINDWATCH algorithm, created over the past six years by Rose Faghih, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at NYU Tandon, evaluates a person's brain activity from information gathered by any wearable device that can track electrodermal activity (EDA). This behavior demonstrates modifications in electrical conductance brought on by emotional stress and connected to sweating responses.
In this recent Mindwatch study, published in Nature Scientific Reports, subjects wearing skin-monitoring wristbands and brain monitoring headbands completed cognitive tests while listening to music, drinking coffee and sniffing perfumes reflecting their individual preferences. They also completed those tests without any of those stimulants.
The Mindwatch algorithm revealed that music and coffee measurably altered subjects’ brain arousal, essentially putting them in a physiological “state of mind” that could modulate their performance in the working memory tasks they were performing.
Specifically, Mindwatch determined the stimulants triggered increased “beta band” brain wave activity, a state associated with peak cognitive performance. Perfume had a modest positive effect as well, suggesting the need for further study.
“The pandemic has impacted the mental well-being of many people across the globe and now more than ever, there is a need to seamlessly monitor the negative impact of everyday stressors on one's cognitive function,” said Faghih. “Right now MINDWATCH is still under development, but our eventual goal is that it will contribute to technology that could allow any person to monitor his or her own brain cognitive arousal in real time, detecting moments of acute stress or cognitive disengagement, for example. At those times, MINDWATCH could ‘nudge’ a person towards simple and safe interventions — perhaps listening to music — so they could get themselves into a brain state in which they feel better and perform job or school tasks more successfully.” The specific cognitive test used in this study — a working memory task, called the n-back test — involves presenting a sequence of stimuli (in this case, images or sounds) one by one and asking the subject to indicate whether the current stimulus matches the one presented "n" items back in the sequence. This study employed a 1-back test — the participant responded "yes" when the current stimulus is the same as the one presented one item back — and a more challenging 3-back test, asking the same for three items back.
Researchers tested three types of music - energetic and relaxing music familiar to the subject, as well as novel AI-generated music that reflected the subject’s tastes. Consistent with prior MINDWATCH research, familiar energetic music delivered bigger performance gains — as measured by reaction times and correct answers — than relaxing music. While AI-generated music produced the biggest gains among all three, further research is needed to confirm those results.
Drinking coffee led to notable but less-pronounced performance gains than music, and perfume had the most modest gains.
Performance gains under all stimulations tended to be higher on the 3-back tests, suggesting interventions may have the most profound effect when “cognitive load” is higher.