Who benefits from brain training and why? | UCI News


Irvine, California, June 21, 2022 — If you’re good at playing puzzles on your smartphone or tablet, what does that say about how quickly you learn new puzzles, or more generally, your ability to concentrate in school or at work ? In the language of psychologists, does “near transference” predict “distant transference”?

A team of psychologists from the University of California at Irvine and the University of California at Riverside report in Nature Human behavior that people who show near transference are more likely to show far transference. For someone skilled at playing a game, such as Wordle, quasi-transfer refers to being skilled at similar games, such as a crossword puzzle. An example of distant transference for this person would be the ability to concentrate better on the activities of daily living.

“Some people do very well in training, like playing a video game, but they don’t show close transference, maybe because they’re using very specific strategies,” said first author Anja Pahor, a former researcher at the UCI and the UCR. now works in a similar role at the Department of Psychology at the University of Maribor in Slovenia. “For these people, a distant transfer is unlikely. By better understanding why this type of memory training or “intervention” works for some people but not others, we can move forward with a new generation of working memory training games or use approaches more suited to individual needs.

The researchers conducted three randomized controlled trials involving almost 500 participants and were able to replicate the same result: the extent to which people improve on untrained tasks, that is, tasks with which they are not comfortable. unfamiliar (near transfer), determines whether a far transfer to an abstract reasoning task is successful. By analogy, if a person who runs on a treadmill in the gym (training or intervention) manages to be able to run faster outside (quasi transfer), then this improvement predicts whether this person would be better prepared to engage in other physical activities (far transfer), such as cycling or playing sports.

Whether and to what extent working memory training improves performance on untrained tasks, such as fluid intelligence – the ability to think and reason abstractly and solve problems – remains a hotly debated topic. Some meta-analyses show a small but significant positive effect on fluid intelligence; others argue that there is no evidence that training generalizes to fluid intelligence.

“What excites working memory researchers the most is whether there’s a transfer to fluid intelligence,” said co-author Aaron Seitz, professor of psychology at UCR and director from the UCR Brain Game Center for Mental Fitness and Well-Being. “What we say in our article is simple: if you get a close transfer, it is very likely that you will also get a far transfer. But not everyone comes close to handover for a variety of reasons, such as participants disengaging during the training or because that particular intervention is ineffective for them. These people seem not to be transferred far.

Susanne Jaeggi, UCI Professor of Education, Director of the UCI Working Memory and Plasticity Laboratory and co-author of the research paper, noted that people are constantly being sold brain training games. . “Some studies claim that these games work; other studies claim otherwise, making it difficult to interpret interventions,” she said. “Furthermore, some of these studies have grouped people who show quasi-transference with people who show no quasi-transference. Our article clarifies some of this confusion.

To dig deeper into these questions, the team has launched a large-scale citizen science project that will engage 30,000 participants in various forms of brain training. The researchers invite anyone over the age of 18 to learn more about their ongoing work and participate in the study by registering.

Jaeggi warned that claims by companies promising their games improve basic cognitive functions must be carefully evaluated.

“Almost everyone has access to an app or plays a game on a computer, and it’s easy to be seduced by the claims of some companies,” Jaeggi said. “If we can understand how and for whom brain training apps work, we can improve them for more than just fun. Such improved applications would be particularly useful for the elderly and certain groups of patients. »

The research was funded by a grant to UCI and UCR from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Mental Health.

The title of the article is “Near transfer to an unbound N-back task mediates the effect of N-back working memory training on matrix reasoning”.

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