Science in Action: Omega-3 (new measures)

My balance measurements, such as this, this, and this, have come close to convincing me that flaxseed oil improves my balance. If a nutrient improves one part of my brain, it will probably improve other parts, too. So I’ve added three more measures of brain function to my daily tests:

1. Memory scanning. A paper-and-pen task. After studying three digits (e.g., “3 7 9”) for a few seconds, I go through a block of digits marking each one “in” (equal to 3, 7, or 9) or “out” (not equal) as fast as possible. Each test consists of 5 blocks of 100 digits. Duration: 5 minutes. Pluses: Similar to a well-studied task (Sternberg’s memory-scanning task). Minuses: Requires a little bit of equipment (sheet of digits).

2. Digit span. I see a series of digits on my laptop screen then try to remember them. The number of digits goes up and down depending on my accuracy. Duration: 4-6 minutes. Pluses: A well-studied task. Quite different than balance, memory scanning, and speeded arithmetic (below). No special equipment. Minuses: Little computation involved, unlike balance.

3. Speeded arithmetic. I do 100 simple arithmetic problems (e.g., 4 + 8, 3 * 5) as fast as possible. Duration: 2 minutes. Pluses: Tim Lundeen found an effect of fish oil on this task. No special equipment. Measures long-term memory retrieval, unlike other tasks. Intense — the 2 minutes are full of mental activity. Minuses: No obvious ones.

One of these may emerge as a better way to study the issue than balance measurements. The biggest problem with balance measurements is strong practice effects. The more often I measured, the better I became. (The area of my brain devoted to the task seemed to increase. The tiny balance platform seemed to grow.) Perhaps practice effects will be less of a problem with at least one of these tasks. Perhaps one of them will show clearer effects of flaxseed oil.

In a comment on an earlier post, someone suggested using chess as a measure. A fun test would be a good addition. Chess has two big problems: 1. Openings are time-consuming and quite different from the rest of the game. 2. If you take longer to make a move you can make a better move. So the amount of time allowed per move must be fixed. Which is less fun.

9 Replies to “Science in Action: Omega-3 (new measures)”

  1. Based on this blog, I upped my daily dose of Omega-3. Previously, I was taking 1 tablet per day of Costco (Kirkland_ brand fish oil Omega 3. These tablets contain 1000 mgs, with 180 mg being EPA, 120 being DHA, and the balance unspecified.

    After reading about Seth’s experiment’s, I started taking two pills per day. I noticed an immediate depression effect on my mood. After a few days of this, I took two days with no pills, and my depression lifted. I am now back on one pill and I seem to be fine.

    I do not take any anti-depressants or other medication.

  2. It seems likely that you will improve through practice in any activity that you choose. You can, as you have previously remarked, reduce the effect of this drift by alternating your omega-3 in time. You could also subtract out the linear term in your fit to the data, and compare only the intercepts. (Assuming of course that you fit on contigous data during which the dosage was constant – as you did in some earlier plots).

    If I were doing this, I would be tempted to try somewhat harder arithmetic problems. You remember what 5 + 8 equals, but you probably have to calculate (in your head) what 329 + 846 equals. I’d imagine a different part of your brain comes into play.

    By the way, I’ve been on your oil diet for about a month and have lost about
    3% of my weight. So far so good!

  3. That’s a good suggestion about trying harder problems. I may eventually do that. With harder problems, it is more difficult to stay at the same place on one’s speed/accuracy tradeoff function. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth a try.

    When I analyze my data I do subtract the linear drift. I will post examples.

    That’s good news about my diet.

  4. Here’s something that might make chess measurable:

    Chess tactics problems. Each one is rated based on its difficulty (according to how hard it was for other chess problem solvers). Each has one right answer, and times how fast you get the answer right. I’m not sure how easy it would be to grab the data off of their pages to put into your analysis, but worth looking into, maybe.

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