May 16, 2022
As cognitive abilities decline with age, there has been interest in identifying interventions that can slow or reverse these changes. One such intervention is cognitive training (CT), which aims to improve the acquisition and retention of skills involved in fluid intelligence, such as reasoning and problem-solving. CT programs have been shown to improve cognitive abilities in older adults, but only a few studies have examined the effects of CT in children or adolescents. This article discusses CT's short-term and long-term benefits on cognitive abilities in children and adolescents.
The effect of CT on cognitive abilities depends on the type of cognitive skills trained and the mode of administration. The effect may occur during training or after training and may last for a short time (i.e., hours) or for a longer duration (i.e., months). Here are the short-term effects:
It has been demonstrated that CT can improve memory by training and improving the efficiency of memory retrieval. In addition, CT focused on improving memory has also shown some evidence of transfer to gains in tests of attentional resources, reaction time, visual processing speed, episodic, semantic, subjective and working memory, as well as aspects of social cognition.
In one study, CT helped improve participants' verbal memory performance only after training and not immediately after (i.e. post-training effect). This post-training effect was found in children, adolescents, and young adults. However, other studies have not supported this finding, so the type of CT may be a key factor.
Executive function (EF), such as planning, working memory, attention, and inhibition, are positively affected by CT. EF play a significant role in intelligence and academic achievement. Research has shown that participants who completed a computerized CT program demonstrated improved performance on different types of EF tasks, requiring participants to process information while simultaneously inhibiting responses incompatible with that information. Another study reported that adolescents who completed an online CT program had better EF skills than a control group on expressive and receptive language measures after 2 weeks but not after 10 weeks.
Children who showed improved processing speed during CT performed better on EFs and verbal ability measures after training. Therefore, if a child is improving their processing speed, they may gain a greater ability to communicate, learn new information, and solve complex problems.
In a study with 120 children aged 11 to 13 years old, researchers found that verbal intelligence improved after six weeks of participation in CT training programs. This effect was more pronounced among participants in the experimental group than those in the control group.
The effect of CT on cognitive abilities may last for a long time. The long-term effects include:
CT training can result in neural changes that support certain cognitive processes. For example, CT has been shown to induce anatomical changes in the brain, such as the growth of new neurons and increased synaptic density. A CT program requires participants to practice certain skills for a period, which may lead to structural changes in the brain.
CT generalizes to other cognitive tasks on the same or other domains. For example, researchers found that working memory and reasoning training could lead to improvements in an unfamiliar reasoning task. This finding suggests that CT training improves reasoning and memory, not only on the tasks trained, but also on other related tasks. This aspect of generalization has been called transfer-appropriate processing (TAP).
CT can be applied to other cognitive domains. For example, CT aimed at improving academic achievement and reading comprehension can lead to improved academic performance in adolescents without changes in intelligence, executive functions, or verbal abilities. This finding suggests that CT can be effective in academic achievement without affecting other cognitive domains.
The effects of CT are more likely to last for a long time if it is physically and mentally demanding. Retention is believed to be related to physical and mental fatigue. If a child experiences high levels of physical and mental fatigue, retention may be longer.
The effects of CT can be specific to the targeted cognitive processes. For example, CT may improve working memory components but not others (e.g., verbal knowledge). This suggests that CT is likely to be limited to specific cognitive abilities and not a universal intervention.
Although CT is beneficial for children and adolescents in improving cognitive skills, the type of training and the cognitive processes targeted are key factors. The effects may last for longer periods if the training is more stimulating, motivating or demanding. Interventions such as computerized brain training are widely used to improve cognitive ability, and have also been found to be safe and accessible to children.
It is important to understand that cognitive ability can be changed and improved at all ages, not only in old age. If interested, you can check-out nicelocal.com to find services like occupational, physical & speech therapists, and other clinical rehabilitation medicine specialists near you that offer CT programs.
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