Brain Training

Abstract

Brain training aims to enhance cognitive processes such as perception, motor control, memory and decision‐making. Emerging research demonstrates that such cognitive processes can be trained, leading to improvements in everyday functioning that depend on these processes. As such, brain training is a rich and exciting field that delves into the limits of the human brain and has potential to benefit everyone's lives. However, while brain training shows promise, it has also sparked controversy as results are mixed across studies, and because findings are often sensationalised with an increasing number of commercial brain‐training products. The field is active and evolving and has the potential to overcome these issues as research clarifies what techniques show the most promise and uncovers the ingredients that most consistently lead to real‐world benefits.

Key Concepts

  • Brain training aims at improving the function of one or more cognitive processes.
  • Cognitive processes include perceptual abilities, motor learning, memory and executive function.
  • Nearly all populations, healthy or impaired, could benefit from effective brain‐training interventions.
  • The ultimate goal of brain training is to generalise beyond the training context to benefit everyday functioning.
  • The evidence supporting effectiveness of brain training is mixed, and findings are actively debated.
  • Brain training is an interesting field that will likely improve in the future as research uncovers which techniques show most promise, and for whom.

Keywords: brain training; cognitive training; transfer of learning; mental fitness; self‐improvement

Figure 1. (a) Screenshot of vision training game (ULTIMEYES) where participants select the targets (called Gabor patterns) and ignore the distractors. Reprinted from Deveau J, Ozer DJ and Seitz AR (2014) Improved vision and on‐field performance in baseball through perceptual learning. Current Biology24 (4): R146–R147 with permission from Elsevier. (b) Example for a two‐back level in a standard n‐back task. (c) Example for a two‐back level in a gamified n‐back task (recall the Game). (b,c) Reprinted by permission from Springer. Mohammed S, Flores L, Deveau J, et al. (2017) The benefits and challenges of implementing motivational features to boost cognitive training outcome. Journal of Cognitive Enhancement1 (4): 491–507. (d) Screenshot of executive function training game (NeuroRacer); sign and drive represents the multitasking condition. Reprinted by permission of Springer. Anguera JA, Boccanfuso J, Rintoul JL, et al. (2013) Video game training enhances cognitive control in older adults. Nature501 (7465): 97–101.
close

References

Allom V, Mullan B and Hagger M (2016) Does inhibitory control training improve health behaviour? A meta‐analysis. Health Psychology Review 10 (2): 168–186. DOI: 10.1080/17437199.2015.1051078.

Anguera JA, Boccanfuso J, Rintoul JL, et al. (2013) Video game training enhances cognitive control in older adults. Nature 501 (7465): 97–101. DOI: 10.1038/nature12486.

Appelbaum LG and Erickson G (2016) Sports vision training: a review of the state‐of‐the‐art in digital training techniques. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology: 1–30. DOI: 10.1080/1750984X.2016.1266376.

Au J, Buschkuehl M, Duncan GJ and Jaeggi SM (2016) There is no convincing evidence that working memory training is NOT effective: a reply to Melby‐Lervåg and Hulme (2015). Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 23 (1): 331–337. DOI: 10.3758/s13423-015-0967-4.

Ball K, Edwards JD, Ross LA and McGwin G (2010) Cognitive training decreases motor vehicle collision involvement of older drivers. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 58 (11): 2107–2113. DOI: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.2010.03138.x.

Bediou B, Adams DM, Mayer RE, et al. (2018) Meta‐analysis of action video game impact on perceptual, attentional, and cognitive skills. Psychological Bulletin 144 (1): 77–110. DOI: 10.1037/bul0000130.

Borella E, Carbone E, Pastore M, De Beni R and Carretti B (2017) Working memory training for healthy older adults: the role of individual characteristics in explaining short‐ and long‐term gains. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 11: 99. DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2017.00099.

Chung STL (2011) Improving reading speed for people with central vision loss through perceptual learning. Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science 52 (2): 1164–1170. DOI: 10.1167/iovs.10-6034.

Chukoskie L, Westerfield M and Townsend J (2017) A novel approach to training attention and gaze in ASD: a feasibility and efficacy pilot study. Developmental Neurobiology. DOI: 10.1002/dneu.22563.

Cortese S, Ferrin M, Brandeis D, et al. (2015) Cognitive training for attention‐deficit/hyperactivity disorder: meta‐analysis of clinical and neuropsychological outcomes from randomized controlled trials. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 54 (3): 164–174. DOI: 10.1016/j.jaac.2014.12.010.

Deveau J, Ozer DJ and Seitz AR (2014) Improved vision and on‐field performance in baseball through perceptual learning. Current Biology 24 (4): R146–R147. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.01.004.

Deveau J and Seitz AR (2014) Applying perceptual learning to achieve practical changes in vision. Frontiers in Psychology 5: 1166. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01166.

Godwin M, Ruhland L, Casson I, et al. (2003) Pragmatic controlled clinical trials in primary care: the struggle between external and internal validity. BMC Medical Research Methodology 3: 28. DOI: 10.1186/1471-2288-3-28.

Goldin AP, Hermida MJ, Shalom DE, et al. (2014) Far transfer to language and math of a short software‐based gaming intervention. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 111 (17): 6443–6448. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1320217111.

Gori S, Seitz AR, Ronconi L, Franceschini S and Facoetti A (2016) Multiple causal links between magnocellular‐dorsal pathway deficit and developmental dyslexia. Cerebral Cortex 26 (11): 4356–4369. DOI: 10.1093/cercor/bhv206.

Halvorsen FH, Cvancarova M, Fosse E and Mjåland O (2013) Effect of computer game playing on baseline laparoscopic simulator skills. Surgical Laparoscopy, Endoscopy & Percutaneous Techniques 23 (4): 394–399. DOI: 10.1097/SLE.0b013e31828e3c54.

Hardy JL, Nelson RA, Thomason ME, et al. (2015) Enhancing cognitive abilities with comprehensive training: a large, online, randomized, active‐controlled trial. Plos One 10 (9): e0134467. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0134467.

Houben K, Havermans RC, Nederkoorn C and Jansen A (2012) Beer à no‐go: learning to stop responding to alcohol cues reduces alcohol intake via reduced affective associations rather than increased response inhibition. Addiction 107 (7): 1280–1287. DOI: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2012.03827.x.

Jaeggi SM, Buschkuehl M, Jonides J and Perrig WJ (2008) Improving fluid intelligence with training on working memory. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 105 (19): 6829–6833. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0801268105.

Karbach J and Kray J (2009) How useful is executive control training? Age differences in near and far transfer of task‐switching training. Developmental Science 12 (6): 978–990. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-7687.2009.00846.x.

Karbach J and Verhaeghen P (2014) Making working memory work: a meta‐analysis of executive‐control and working memory training in older adults. Psychological Science 25 (11): 2027–2037. DOI: 10.1177/0956797614548725.

Karni A and Sagi D (1991) Where practice makes perfect in texture discrimination: evidence for primary visual cortex plasticity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 88 (11): 4966–4970. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.88.11.4966.

Katz B, Jaeggi S, Buschkuehl M, Stegman A and Shah P (2014) Differential effect of motivational features on training improvements in school‐based cognitive training. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 8: 242. DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00242.

Klingberg T, Fernell E, Olesen PJ, et al. (2005) Computerized training of working memory in children with ADHD – a randomized, controlled trial. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 44 (2): 177–186. DOI: 10.1097/00004583-200502000-00010.

Levi DM and Li RW (2009) Perceptual learning as a potential treatment for amblyopia: a mini‐review. Vision Research 49 (21): 2535–2549. DOI: 10.1016/j.visres.2009.02.010.

Li H, Li J, Li N, et al. (2011) Cognitive intervention for persons with mild cognitive impairment: a meta‐analysis. Ageing Research Reviews 10 (2): 285–296. DOI: 10.1016/j.arr.2010.11.003.

Lorant‐Royer S, Munch C, Mesclé H and Lieury A (2010) Kawashima vs “Super Mario”! Should a game be serious in order to stimulate cognitive aptitudes? Revue Européenne de Psychologie Appliquée/European Review of Applied Psychology 60 (4): 221–232. DOI: 10.1016/j.erap.2010.06.002.

Lövdén M, Bäckman L, Lindenberger U, Schaefer S and Schmiedek F (2010) A theoretical framework for the study of adult cognitive plasticity. Psychological Bulletin 136 (4): 659–676. DOI: 10.1037/a0020080.

Merzenich MM, Jenkins WM, Johnston P, et al. (1996) Temporal processing deficits of language‐learning impaired children ameliorated by training. Science 271 (5245): 77–81.

Mishra J, Anguera JA and Gazzaley A (2016a) Video games for neuro‐cognitive optimization. Neuron 90 (2): 214–218. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2016.04.010.

Mishra J, de Villers‐Sidani E, Merzenich M and Gazzaley A (2014) Adaptive training diminishes distractibility in aging across species. Neuron 84 (5): 1091–1103. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2014.10.034.

Mohammed S, Flores L, Deveau J, et al. (2017) The benefits and challenges of implementing motivational features to boost cognitive training outcome. Journal of Cognitive Enhancement 1 (4): 491–507. DOI: 10.1007/s41465-017-0047-y.

Noice H and Noice T (2009) An arts intervention for older adults living in subsidized retirement homes. Neuropsychology, Development, and Cognition. Section B, Aging, Neuropsychology and Cognition 16 (1): 56–79. DOI: 10.1080/13825580802233400.

Owen AM, Hampshire A, Grahn JA, et al. (2010) Putting brain training to the test. Nature 465 (7299): 775–778. DOI: 10.1038/nature09042.

Parisi JM, Greene JC, Morrow DG and Stine‐Morrow EAL (2007) The Senior Odyssey. Activities, Adaptation & Aging 31 (3): 31–49. DOI: 10.1300/J016v31n03_03.

Park DC, Lodi‐Smith J, Drew L, et al. (2014) The impact of sustained engagement on cognitive function in older adults: the Synapse Project. Psychological Science 25 (1): 103–112. DOI: 10.1177/0956797613499592.

Polat U (2009) Making perceptual learning practical to improve visual functions. Vision Research 49 (21): 2566–2573. DOI: 10.1016/j.visres.2009.06.005.

Polat U, Schor C, Tong J‐L, et al. (2012) Training the brain to overcome the effect of aging on the human eye. Scientific Reports 2: 278. DOI: 10.1038/srep00278.

Popov T, Jordanov T, Rockstroh B, et al. (2011) Specific cognitive training normalizes auditory sensory gating in schizophrenia: a randomized trial. Biological Psychiatry 69 (5): 465–471. DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2010.09.028.

Rabin S (2005) Introduction to Game Development. Rockland, MA: Charles River Media.

Ralph KJ, Gibson BS, Gondoli DM, et al. (2017) Targeting the three stages of retrieval from secondary memory in a double‐blinded, placebo‐controlled, randomized working memory training study. Journal of Cognitive Enhancement 1 (4): 455–477. DOI: 10.1007/s41465-017-0043-2.

Rebok GW, Ball K, Guey LT, et al. (2014) Ten‐year effects of the advanced cognitive training for independent and vital elderly cognitive training trial on cognition and everyday functioning in older adults. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 62 (1): 16–24. DOI: 10.1111/jgs.12607.

Rizzo A and Kim GJ (2005) A SWOT analysis of the field of virtual reality rehabilitation and therapy. Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments 14 (2): 119–146. DOI: 10.1162/1054746053967094.

Schmidt RA and Lee TD (2005) Motor Control and Learning: A Behavioral Emphasis. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Segretin MS, Lipina SJ, Hermida MJ, et al. (2014) Predictors of cognitive enhancement after training in preschoolers from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. Frontiers in Psychology 5: 205. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00205.

Seitz AR (2017a) Primer: perceptual learning. Current Biology 27 (13): R631–R636.

Seitz AR (2017b) A new framework of design and continuous evaluation to improve brain training. Journal of Cognitive Enhancement: 1–10. DOI: 10.1007/s41465-017-0058-8.

Simons DJ, Boot WR, Charness N, et al. (2016) Do “brain‐training” programs work? Psychological Science in the Public Interest: A Journal of the American Psychological Society 17 (3): 103–186. DOI: 10.1177/1529100616661983.

Söderqvist S and Nutley SB (2017) Are measures of transfer effects missing the target? Journal of Cognitive Enhancement 1 (4): 508–512. DOI: 10.1007/s41465-017-0048-x.

Titz C and Karbach J (2014) Working memory and executive functions: effects of training on academic achievement. Psychological Research 78 (6): 852–868. DOI: 10.1007/s00426-013-0537-1.

Uttal DH, Miller DI and Newcombe NS (2013) Exploring and enhancing spatial thinking. Current Directions in Psychological Science: A Journal of the American Psychological Society 22 (5): 367–373. DOI: 10.1177/0963721413484756.

Verhaeghen P (2015) Memory training and mnemonics. In: The Encyclopedia of Adulthood and Aging. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.. DOI: 10.1002/9781118521373.wbeaa076.

Wass SV, Scerif G and Johnson MH (2012) Training attentional control and working memory – is younger, better? Developmental Review 32 (4): 360–387. DOI: 10.1016/j.dr.2012.07.001.

Weicker J, Villringer A and Thöne‐Otto A (2016) Can impaired working memory functioning be improved by training? A meta‐analysis with a special focus on brain injured patients. Neuropsychology 30 (2): 190–212. DOI: 10.1037/neu0000227.

Whitton JP, Hancock KE and Polley DB (2014) Immersive audiomotor game play enhances neural and perceptual salience of weak signals in noise. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 111 (25): E2606–E2615. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1322184111.

Further Reading

Barnett SM and Ceci SJ (2002) When and where do we apply what we learn?: a taxonomy for far transfer. Psychological bulletin 128 (4): 612.

Deveau J, Jaeggi SM, Zordan V, Phung C and Seitz AR (2015) How to build better memory training games. Frontiers in systems neuroscience 8: 243.

Green CS and Bavelier D (2015) Action video game training for cognitive enhancement. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences 4: 103–108.

Green CS and Seitz AR (2015) The impacts of video games on cognition (and how the government can guide the industry). Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences 2 (1): 101–110.

Jaušovec N and Pahor A (2017) Increasing Intelligence. London: Elsevier Academic Press.

Jonides J, Jaeggi SM, Buschkuehl M and Shah P (2012) Building better brains. Scientific American Mind 23 (4): 59–63.

Merzenich MM, Van Vleet TM and Nahum M (2014) Brain plasticity‐based therapeutics. Frontiers in human neuroscience 8: 385.

Mishra J, Anguera JA and Gazzaley A (2016b) Video games for neuro‐cognitive optimization. Neuron 90 (2): 214–218.

Strobach T and Karbach J (2016) Cognitive Training: An Overview of Features and Applications. New York: Springer.

Contact Editor close
Submit a note to the editor about this article by filling in the form below.

* Required Field

How to Cite close
Pahor, Anja, Jaeggi, Susanne M, and Seitz, Aaron R(May 2018) Brain Training. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0028037]