Cognitive Tracking for the Budding Bio-Hacker
GETTING THE MOST OUT OF BIO-HACKING WITH COGNITIVE TRACKING
If you’re looking to get into the field of cognitive enhancement the best way to take advantage of the tricks and tools at the bio-hacker’s fingertips is to make sure you’re educated before you take the plunge. Many people consider using nootropics as their “secret weapon” for sharpening their gray matter. Before going down that route it’s best to take a scientific approach so that you can ensure that you’ll get the most possible out of the practice.
The smart way to supplement with smart drugs is to first begin by getting a clear idea of your starting point. Measuring your baseline, to use the technical jargon, allows you to test it against the study/intervention data. Think of it as a “before and after” view except your looking at two sets of data rather than a mirror selfie. While doing so it’s important to keep variables (such as compounds used) to a minimum. Only add one element at a time to your stack and keep accurate records of biometrics such as physiology, mood and cognitive performance as determined by any number of means. That way you can accurately gauge the efficacy of the “intervention means” (whatever supplements and other variables such as diet, exercise, etc. affect the outcome of your cognitive tests you’re recording).
Cognitive tracking is something that should be considered by any serious bio-hacker. Before beginning supplementing with nootropics it’s good to get what is called “baseline data.” Your baseline assessment will be based on tests that you administer for yourself and record before supplementing. Even before determining your baseline it might be a good idea to examine other parts of your daily routine to see what factors (diet, exercise, sleep, etc.) might be able to be altered to improve your current standing. In other words, there’s no sense fixing the roof on a house until you’ve made sure the foundation is secure.
PLATFORMS AND TOOLS TO ASSIST THE BIO-HACKER TO BE
One great tool for testing and storing data is the Quantified Mind website. QM is a free service packed with helpful resources that allow you to test and measure cognitive performance through various variables. QM operates via a web platform that allows the user to take tests, measure and record physiological and cognitive data, track biometric data and even take part in online group experiments.
Once you’ve ensured that your diet, sleep, exercise and other fundamental variables are in place then you can take your “baseline assessment” to see what your “average functioning” is. From here you can learn about certain types of processes that you have some strengths in and what areas you might need to beef up a bit.
After establishing your baseline assessment you’ll want to begin your supplementation regimen. At this point you can track your progress and see if there is any significant improvement. This, by the way, is called the intervention assessment. In other words, we’re assessing how effective whatever “intervention means” we’ve used might be in improving any of various skills based on our improvement or lack of improvement in the battery of tests taken during the baseline assessment.
In addition to Quantified Mind there are a number of cognitive tracking apps available for your smart phone as well such as MindMetrics, Focus Monitor and BrainBaseline.
THE COMING REVOLUTION IN PERSONALIZED/PRECISION MEDICINE
The idea of cognitive tracking brings to mind a new trend that could revolutionize health care in the coming years. Personalized medicine (based on data derived from genetic tests and years of study mapping the human genome) allows health consumers to make more informed decisions about their health, wellness and medical care. Thanks to a growing field of data in regards to the genomic studies that are continuing on there are higher probabilities of achieving the desired result when genetic data can be used to apply more apt, therapies specifically targeted for that person. This of course can lead to less likelihood of negative peripheral side effects and spotting diseases or genetic markers for disease predisposition may allow for prevention and prediction of disease to become the goal rather than mere reaction, after the fact.
Western allopathic medicine for years was based on a “one size fits all” model that just simply doesn’t seem to work due to the near infinite variability of human genetic expression. Personalized medicine, or “Precision Medicine” as it’s also known) is a new philosophy that utilizes genomic, genetic and environmental data to test patients and use the results to determine proper course of health care.
This could mean simply knowing what medications will be likely not to work or knowing what behaviors and choices might be a bad idea based on certain genetic markers. Already this method is being found very helpful in the field of oncology where genetic tests can sometimes determine whether or not certain treatments, therapies or medications might result in adverse reactions in the individual patient.
You can get information about your ancestry and genetic predisposition by taking a test at 23&me. From there using the SNPedia (single nucleotide polymorphism encyclopedia or “snip-edia” for short) and Promethease to further extrapolate information about your genetic disposition after receiving your data from 23&me or whatever service you choose (such as deCODEme or Knome). The articles at SNP provide descriptions of the SNP and may also include links to scientific articles and further information on genomics subject in question.
DUAL N-BACK, BRAIN GAMES AND EYE TRACKING
An article in Scientific American examines much of the research done into “brain training games” especially whether there is a continuing impact that can carry over to real life resulting in better over-all brain health, decreased risk of cognitive decline and more. Research by the University of Pennsylvania overseen by Sherry Willis and her colleagues suggested that certain brain training games and activities do seem to have an effective carry-over.
Other sorts of technology such as that developed by SMI (sensomotoric instruments), an index of cognitive activity which measures user effort and task difficulty by measuring eye movement using screen based and natural interactions. SMI eye tracking glasses and devices are used to track what visual input triggers increase in mental strain and measure cognitive workload while performing tasks such as training, driving and other fine motor tasks requiring visual information.
Using the ICA (Index of cognitive activity) module and the SMI eye tracking analysis software the ICA can reveal what tasks trigger greater mental effort in order to measure task difficulty, discern workload and perform analysis of degree of workload difference between separate populations (beginners and experts, for instance). The end goal being finding new, more useful training interfaces
Dual n-back tests and stroop tests are excellent ways to measure cognitive function, executive functioning and vigilance (awareness). The website Cognitive Fun has some games and tests that can be used to sharpen up the brain as well as test various performance axes.
Dual n-back software has some research suggesting it may improve not only working memory but raise IQ as well. The website Gwern.net has an extensive FAQ on dual n-back software as well as a meta-analysis of the current research in the field that draws together multiple bits of data in various studies.
Cognitive tracking can be a great way to learn about your personal strengths and weaknesses as well as to help you gauge how effective the supplement “interventions” you’re testing are. Remember always to consult your physician before undergoing any training, exercise, diet or supplement regime especially if you are currently taking any over-the-counter or prescription medications or under a doctor’s care.
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