Project description

Bart Sobczyk Project

Objectives

This project proposes to address a deficit of basic research in the field of cognitive training. Cognitive training is present in the literature in primarily two forms: working memory training and video game training. Working memory training uses tasks such as the N-back paradigm in order to train basic executive functions in an effort to indirectly improve fluid intelligence. Video game training uses popular video games to train a broad range of cognitive functions centered on visual attention. While studies in these fields have shown that the improvement of cognitive functions through training is possible, the motivational, cognitive, and psychophysiological factors underlying this process are relatively unknown.

Without such knowledge we are relegated to the role of observer, and progress leading to a global understanding of how to improve cognitive functioning through training will remain in the largely stagnant state that it currently finds itself in. Such an assertion is supported by the fact that studies in both fields struggle to show consistent results and explain the results that are obtained: working memory training often fails to find performance increases past the trained ability itself, while video game training inconsistently produces performance increases in a wide range of cognitive abilities. Cognitive training research has thus far been focused on the presentation of effects as opposed to the understanding of their occurrence.

Although this trend is beginning to move back towards basic research, to date no comprehensive attempt has been made to study the psychological or psychophysiological factors leading to cognitive enhancement. This project intends to do just that, and will do so through a series of tightly controlled training studies using both working memory and video game approaches to train executive functions. By manipulating motivational factors and monitoring the theoretically plausible mediators (psychological and psychophysiological) of successful cognitive training, we hope to lay the groundwork for future research into how we can optimize such trainings instead of simply conducting them.

Methodology

Two series of studies will be conducted in this project. Study I and following data analysis will be directed at identifying key behavioral, motivational, and psychophysiological factors of cognitive change observed in the context of working memory training versus its “gamified” version. In order to study the significance of motivation we will manipulate the training scenario by introducing video game features into the dual N-back task, creating an enriched version to compare with the original. The remaining factors – behavioral and psychophysiological – will be measured during pre and post training measurement sessions.

Study II will employ the same methodology (dependent and mediating/moderating variables) to compare two version of a video game in order to identify behavioral and psychophysiological factors leading to cognitive improvement after exposure to video games. Motivational factors will also be manipulated here by assigning participants to single or multiplayer versions of the game. The dependent and mediating variables will be identical in both studies, giving us the opportunity to precisely establish the mechanisms underlying observed improvement in each paradigm (training and gaming) and to assess motivational factors in each training regime.

Expected impact of the project

Answering the basic questions identified by this project falls in line with the logical progression of cognitive training research and is therefore a justifiable effort to address highly salient scientific problems present within the field. Furthermore, while current efforts are beginning to move in the direction of this type of basic research, the consolidated approach proposed by this project is unique in the sense that no such attempt to synthesize knowledge from two parallel (but separate) fields has to date been made. It would be the first training study of its kind, and the results could potentially serve as a catalyst for further research.

As this project aims to improve our understanding of what makes for a successful cognitive training intervention, the potential impact is significant. Improved cognition is not only relevant to the average person looking for a brain boost, as the ability to increase the performance of key cognitive functions may have great implications for attempts at neurorehabilitation. Patients with impaired cognitive functioning, whether it is trauma or disorder related, may stand to benefit from efficient and targeted interventions designed to rehabilitate impairments of executive and attentional functions. Furthermore, such interventions may be highly beneficial to the field of cognitive aging. Age related cognitive change is often highly associated with deficiencies in working memory and perceptual/processing speed, the very functions most often shown to be improvable through training.

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