Cognitive training based on strategy can enhance cognitive performance and translate into real-life benefit, according to a UT Dallas Center for BrainHealth article recently published in Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, an open-access academic publisher and research network.
Center for BrainHealth director, Dr. Sandra Chapman, explained what was particularly exciting about the research was that in randomized trials comparing gist reasoning training to memory training, researchers were able to discover that it was not the learning of the new information that engaged widespread brain networks and elevated cognitive performance. On the contrary, the neural engagement came about using the information in new ways.“Our brains are wired to be inspired,” said the director, who also serves as a Dee Wyly Distinguished University Chair at UT Dallas.
“The ability to recognize, synthesize and create the essence of complex ideas and problems to solve are fundamental skills for academic, occupational and real-life success,” Chapman said. “The capacity to enhance cognition and complex neural networks in health, after injury or disease diagnosis will have major implications to preventing, diagnosing and treating cognitive decline and enhancing cognitive performance in youth to prepare them for an unknown future and in middle age to older adults who want to remain mentally robust.”
The study involved a range of participants, including individuals with brain injury, those at risk for Alzheimer’s disease, teenagers, and healthy older adults. The goal was to highlight cognitive, neural, and real-life changes measured in randomized clinical trials that compared a gist-reasoning strategy-training program to memory training.
The study was directed at addressing strategic attention, integrated reasoning, and innovation, three recognized hierarchical cognitive strategies that can be easily applied to most complex mental activities that individuals engage in in their daily lives. The training was brief, and involved only 8 to 12 sessions.
“One of the key differences in our studies from other interventional research aimed at improving cognitive abilities is that we did not focus on specific cognitive functions such as speed of processing, memory, or learning isolated new skills. Instead, the gist reasoning training program encouraged use of a common set of multi-dimensional thinking strategies to synthesize information and elimination of toxic habits that impair efficient brain performance,” Chapman said.
The goal of the training sessions was to help the study participants focus solely on important information and filter out everything else that was irrelevant. At more advanced levels within the study, participants were supposed to create interpretations, themes, or generalized statements from information they wanted or needed.
“Cognitive gains were documented in trained areas such as abstracting, reasoning, and innovating. And benefits also spilled over to untrained areas such as memory for facts, planning, and problem solving,” added Chapman.