Brain training has no effect on decision-making

August 21, 2017 by
Filed under: Research, Spinewave Bulletin 

 

Increased preference for immediate over delayed and for risky over certain rewards has been associated with unhealthy behavioural choices.

Motivated by evidence that enhanced cognitive control can shift choice behaviour away from immediate and risky rewards, we tested whether training executive cognitive function could influence choice behaviour 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.

Pre and post training, participants completed cognitive assessments and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) during performance of 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 behaviour, or cognitive performance.

Significance statement

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 randomised controlled trial of the effects of commercial adaptive cognitive training  on neural activity and decision-making in young adults, compared to an active control (playing online video games). We found no evidence for relative benefits of cognitive training with respect to changes in decision-making behaviour or brain response, or for cognitive task performance beyond those specifically trained.

Reference:

Kable, J. et al., No Effect of Commercial Cognitive Training on Neural Activity During Decision-Making. Journal of Neuroscience, 2017. p. 2832-16.

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