The Benefits of a One-Time Cognitive Training Program Do Last but Wane Over Time

Do you remem­ber the IMPACT study pub­lished in 2009? It was a ran­dom­ized clin­i­cal tri­al with healthy old­er adults that com­pared a com­put­er-based cog­ni­tive pro­gram that trains audi­tory pro­cess­ing (Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram, Posit Sci­ence) with edu­ca­tion­al video pro­grams (con­trol group). Peo­ple who used the pro­gram improved in the trained tasks, which was not that sur­pris­ing, but there was also a clear ben­e­fit in audi­tory mem­ory, which wasn’t direct­ly trained.

A 2011 paper reports the 3‑month fol­low-up results of the IMPACT study. The 487 par­tic­i­pants in the orig­i­nal study were 65 and old­er. Train­ing was 1 hour a day, 4 to 5 days a week, for a total of 40 hours in 8 to 10 weeks. There was no con­tact with the researchers between the ini­tial train­ing study and the fol­low-up study.

The results showed that 3 months after the ini­tial train­ing most of the improve­ment observed in the train­ing group was still present, although not as strong­ly. In oth­er words, with­out rein­force­ment, the cog­ni­tive train­ing effect was main­tained but waned over time.

So what’s the take-home mes­sage? Let’s look at phys­i­cal fit­ness. We do not expect 2 months of intense abdom­i­nal train­ing to last a life­time but instead reg­u­lar­ly go to the gym. The same is true with brain fit­ness. It looks like you can­not train your brain for a few months and then stop and expect the ben­e­fits to last for­ev­er. Reg­u­lar train­ing is needed.

Relat­ed post: Cog­ni­tive Train­ing can Boost Sense of Control


  1. Sammi Law on March 20, 2011 at 9:51

    My lat­est endeav­or is to final­ly make a com­mit­ment to read­ing more. I put it off for decades, but now I believe it may help me write more effec­tive­ly; and it does seem to be improv­ing my spelling.

    Sim­i­lar to star­ing a phys­i­cal train­ing pro­gram, I had a head ache at first, but I think I got passed that stage.

    Thanks for your arti­cle. I found it encouraging.

  2. Norman Webster on March 22, 2011 at 1:59

    In the spir­it of this lat­est update from the IMPACT study and the recent BBC Bang Goes the The­o­ry ~Does brain train­ing games make you smarter ~(what­ev­er that means), I would like to see a sim­i­lar event take place here in North Amer­i­ca, same for­mat, using the show Myth­Busters as the medi­um of choice, BUT THIS TIME, use more sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly plau­si­ble para­me­ters ie restrict the age to say 53 yrs and up, increase the dai­ly work­outs to say 1 hour, and 4 or 5 times a week for say 3 months. After this time peri­od has elapsed, then show the con­trol group vs the brain traing­ing group, live on TV! Just like in Europe. I’m cer­tain the results would be far dif­fer­ent than what was por­trayed via Dr. Adri­an Owen et al. What could then fol­low is a debate between Adri­an Owen and say Michael Merzenich or Eliz­a­beth Zelin­s­ki regard­ing the dif­fer­ences in test results

About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.
SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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