Jan 24

Entertainment Software and Cognitive Neurotherapeutics Society (Los Angeles, 2013)

Extending the analogy between cognitive and physical training with implicit learning as the mechanism behind cognitive strengthening

Kathryn L. Gigler, Samantha Stores & Paul J. Reber

Proponents of cognitive training are often criticized for lack of knowledge of a mechanism by which transfer of training gains occurs. We suggest implicit learning as a mechanism for transfer and offer an extension of a commonly-referenced metaphor in order to elaborate upon this mechanism. It is often stated that cognitive activity improves cognitive function in a manner like that in which physical exercise improves muscular function. While this basic analogy may be overly simplistic, a careful extension addressing mechanism of transfer and potential training tasks can aid better understanding of both the challenges and promise of cognitive training. Cognitive training gains are specific to the processes trained in the same way that exercising strengthens the targeted muscle. Physical exercise can also lead to broader cardiovascular benefits; similarly, researchers hypothesize that cognitive training can lead to improvements in global cognitive functioning. As in implicit learning, repeated practice of a cognitive task- like repeated physical exercise- improves trained functions, potentially leading to improvements in untrained functions. Because of its involvement in many higher-order tasks, working memory could be an ideal candidate for cognitive training, with repeated practice leading to extensive global benefits. As a final point, we note that as physical exercise leads to the largest improvements in sedentary individuals, cognitive training may result in greater benefits for individuals less cognitively active. Long-term maintenance of gains in this population likely depends on higher levels of cognitive activity maintained post-training, a hypothesis based on findings from the physical exercise literature.

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