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From Big Bird to Better Brains

January 17, 2008
Related Topics: Future Workplace, Behavioral Training, Featured Article, Technology
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Lloyd Morrisett knows a thing or two about tapping technology to stimulate the brain.

    In the 1960s, Morrisett helped create Sesame Street to harness the power of television to teach young children.

    Now 78, Morrisett has latched on to another project that he says marries technology and mind improvement—one that has changed his own brain for the better.

    Morrisett is an advisor to Posit Science, a San Francisco-based software company with a program designed to turn back the clock on aging brains. Posit Science is one of a number of vendors pitching brain fitness software and hopes to sell its product to companies as a workforce training tool.

    Morrisett retired from full-time paid work in 1998, but remains busy. He serves on the boards of Sesame Street producer Sesame Workshop, opinion research group Public Agenda and Internet services firm Tucows. Morrisett also practices piano and singing.

    He learned about Posit Science several years ago from an acquaintance and met with company co-founder Michael Merzenich, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco. Morrisett eventually went through a test version of the company’s brain fitness program, which took him 40 hours over eight weeks.

    "It seemed to me that did have an effect," Morrisett says, adding that "the improvement seems to be a long-term improvement."

    In particular, Morrisett says his hearing in noisy settings seemed better. So did his memory. He found it easier to recall names and access current information.

    Another benefit, he says, came in the realm of his music. Years ago, Morrisett could not match a tone played on the piano with his voice. Now he can, and he believes Posit Science helped. In one of the program’s activities, users are asked to listen to two tones played in rapid succession and then decide whether the second was higher or lower than the first.

    Doubts have been raised about whether computer brain training programs are engaging enough to maintain people’s interest. Morrisett, though, says he had no trouble staying motivated in the Posit Science program. Seeing his progress over time helped. "It’s highly rewarding," he says. "I looked forward to it."

    Morrisett can imagine companies, such as those in the financial sector, offering Posit Science training as a perk to employees. "I would think that some companies certainly will try it out," he says.

    Behind Morrisett’s guess is a vision of blending tech with a population in need of help. Back in 1968, when he co-founded Children’s Television Workshop, it was television and disadvantaged children. Now it’s computers and older people trying to keep mentally fit as careers stretch out.

    "I think there’s going to be quite an interest in staying sharp over a longer period of time," he says.

Workforce Management, January 14, 2008, p. 22 -- Subscribe Now!

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