J Neurosci. 2017 Aug 2;37(31):7390-7402. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2832-16.2017.
Increased preference for immediate over delayed rewards and for risky over certain rewards has been associated with unhealthy behavioral choices. Motivated by evidence that enhanced cognitive control can shift choice behavior away from immediate and risky rewards, we tested whether training executive cognitive function could influence choice behavior and brain responses. In this randomized controlled trial, 128 young adults (71 male, 57 female) participated in 10 weeks of training with either a commercial web-based cognitive training program or web-based video games that do not specifically target executive function or adapt the level of difficulty throughout training. Pretraining and post-training, participants completed cognitive assessments and functional magnetic resonance imaging during performance of the following validated decision-making tasks: delay discounting (choices between smaller rewards now vs larger rewards in the future) and risk sensitivity (choices between larger riskier rewards vs smaller certain rewards). Contrary to our hypothesis, we found no evidence that cognitive training influences neural activity during decision-making; nor did we find effects of cognitive training on measures of delay discounting or risk sensitivity. Participants in the commercial training condition improved with practice on the specific tasks they performed during training, but participants in both conditions showed similar improvement on standardized cognitive measures over time. Moreover, the degree of improvement was comparable to that observed in individuals who were reassessed without any training whatsoever. Commercial adaptive cognitive training appears to have no benefits in healthy young adults above those of standard video games for measures of brain activity, choice behavior, or cognitive performance.
Engagement of neural regions and circuits important in executive cognitive function can bias behavioral choices away from immediate rewards. Activity in these regions may be enhanced through adaptive cognitive training. Commercial brain training programs claim to improve a broad range of mental processes; however, evidence for transfer beyond trained tasks is mixed. We undertook the first randomized controlled trial of the effects of commercial adaptive cognitive training (Lumosity) on neural activity and decision-making in young adults (N = 128) compared with an active control (playing on-line video games). We found no evidence for relative benefits of cognitive training with respect to changes in decision-making behavior or brain response, or for cognitive task performance beyond those specifically trained.
KEYWORDS: cognitive training; delay discounting; impulsivity; neuroimaging; working memory