Johns Hopkins study shows how brain training, if correctly targeted, can enhance cognitive and brain performance


This train­ing exer­cise boosts brain pow­er, Johns Hop­kins researchers say (Johns Hop­kins release)

One of the two brain-train­ing meth­ods most sci­en­tists use in research is sig­nif­i­cant­ly bet­ter in improv­ing mem­o­ry and atten­tion, Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­si­ty researchers found. It also results in more sig­nif­i­cant changes in brain activity.

Though this exer­cise did­n’t make any­one smarter, it great­ly improved skills peo­ple need to excel at school and at work. These results, pub­lished this week by the Jour­nal of Cog­ni­tive Enhance­ment, sug­gest it’s pos­si­ble to train the brain like oth­er body parts—with tar­get­ed workouts.

Peo­ple say cog­ni­tive train­ing either works or does­n’t work. We showed that it mat­ters what kind of train­ing you’re doing,” said lead author Kara J. Black­er, a for­mer Johns Hop­kins post-doc­tor­al fel­low in psy­cho­log­i­cal and brain sciences…Scientists try­ing to deter­mine if brain exer­cis­es make peo­ple smarter have had mixed results. Johns Hop­kins researchers sus­pect­ed the prob­lem was­n’t the idea of brain train­ing, but the type of exer­cise researchers chose to test it…

The researchers found that the group that prac­ticed what’s known as a “dual n‑back” exer­cise showed a 30 per­cent improve­ment in their work­ing mem­o­ry. That was near­ly dou­ble the gains made by the group work­ing with the oth­er com­mon task, known as “com­plex span.” The dual n‑back group also showed sig­nif­i­cant changes in brain activ­i­ty in the pre­frontal cor­tex, the crit­i­cal region respon­si­ble for high­er learning.”

The Study

N‑back Ver­sus Com­plex Span Work­ing Mem­o­ry Train­ing (Jour­nal of Cog­ni­tive Enhancement)

  • From the abstract: Work­ing mem­o­ry (WM) is the abil­i­ty to main­tain and manip­u­late task-rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion in the absence of sen­so­ry input. While its improve­ment through train­ing is of great inter­est, the degree to which WM train­ing trans­fers to untrained WM tasks (near trans­fer) and oth­er untrained cog­ni­tive skills (far trans­fer) remains debat­ed and the mechanism(s) under­ly­ing trans­fer are unclear…Participants com­plet­ed adap­tive train­ing on either a dual n‑back task, a sym­me­try span task, or on a non-WM active con­trol task. We found evi­dence of near trans­fer for the dual n‑back group; how­ev­er, far trans­fer to a mea­sure of flu­id intel­li­gence did not emerge. Record­ing EEG dur­ing a sep­a­rate WM trans­fer task, we exam­ined group-spe­cif­ic, train­ing-relat­ed changes in alpha pow­er, which are pro­posed to be sen­si­tive to WM demands and top-down mod­u­la­tion of WM. Results indi­cat­ed that the dual n‑back group showed sig­nif­i­cant­ly greater frontal alpha pow­er after train­ing com­pared to before train­ing, more so than both oth­er groups. How­ev­er, we found no evi­dence of improve­ment on mea­sures of rela­tion­al WM for the dual n‑back group, sug­gest­ing that near trans­fer may not be depen­dent on rela­tion­al WM. These results sug­gest that dual n‑back and com­plex span task train­ing may dif­fer in their effec­tive­ness to elic­it near trans­fer as well as in the under­ly­ing neur­al changes they facilitate.

The Study in Context

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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