What Is Cognitive Training?

 

Cognitive Training has some things in common with Physical Training.  Both are intended to develop greater strength, stamina, coordination and flexibility.  Physical Training focuses on physical abilities, like muscle strength and cardiovascular capacity.  Cognitive Training focuses on the cognitive processes our brains use to take in, store, retrieve, organize, apply and reason with information.  Cognitive Training is also sometimes called Brain Training.

Most people are familiar with physical exercise and training, but cognitive exercise or cognitive training is generally not as well understood.

Skills Addressed by Cognitive Training

Some cognitive training programs focus narrowly on one or a few cognitive skills; others are broader.  Narrower programs assume that working on one particular skill at a time will produce a great effect.  Broader programs rely on the principle that the brain is a highly integrated organ and that skills must not only be strong but also work together.  Recent research provides greater support for the brain as an integrated system that must be trained in an integrated way.

When people think about cognitive skills, mental processes like attention (focus) or memory often come to mind.  However, each general category of cognitive skills may have a number of different individual skills within it.  So, for example, attention skills include sustained attention, selective attention, flexible attention and divided attention.

Categories of skills that are often trained in Cognitive Training programs include:

  • Attention
  • Visual Processing
  • Auditory Processing
  • Sensory Integration
  • Memory
  • Executive Functions (Working Memory, Inhibitory Control and Cognitive Flexibility)
  • Higher-Order Executive Functions (Logic and Reasoning)

Click here for a list of 43 cognitive skills and their definitions.

Reasons for Cognitive Training

People have different objectives when it comes to cognitive training.  Children and younger adults often participate in cognitive training to improve academic and workplace skills.  Older adults often engage in cognitive training to keep their minds active and because there is some evidence that cognitive training may delay the onset or severity of age-related cognitive decline.

Cognitive Training for Children

When parents seek out cognitive training opportunities for their children, it is often because their child has weaknesses in one or more cognitive skills.  Cognitive skills are the foundation for learning, so difficulties in school (reading, math or other curriculum) or issues with everyday activities (like being organized or following instructions) often are caused by less well-developed cognitive skills.  For some children, these cognitive weaknesses are associated with a diagnosis, such as ADHD, a Specific Learning Disability, or Autism.  However, it is important to remember that we all have cognitive strengths and weaknesses, regardless of whether there is a specific diagnosis and cognitive training can strengthen and integrate cognitive skills, even for students who are doing well in school or even those who are Gfited.

Cognitive Training for Young Adults

The strength of an individual’s cognitive skills can also impact learning beyond elementary and secondary school.  Thus, remediation of cognitive skills through cognitive training can be relevant for college and university students and adult learners in the workplace need a strong cognitive foundation for the skills often called soft skills at work, and to learn new skills to keep up with changes in technology and job requirements.

Cognitive Training for Older Adults

Research has now demonstrated that cognitive training resulted in improved cognitive abilities for adults 65 and up ten years later.  The important thing is that the training really needs to challenge our cognitive abilities, not be something that we are already good at.  While crossword puzzles or Sudoku may be fun, those activities are unlikely to have as great an impact as cognitive training that challenges attention, memory, reasoning and other cognitive skills to improve them beyond their current level.  Many believe that it is possible to build up cognitive reserve in this way.

Criteria for Effective Cognitive Training

Here is a checklist of what to look for in a cognitive training program.

  • How comprehensive is the training program (breadth of skills)?
  • Where does the program come from and how was it developed?
  • Does the program work to integrate skills so they will work together?
  • Is the program designed to be engaging and motivating?
  • Has the program been shown to have measurable results in peer-reviewed published research and in real-life studies?
  • Does the program assess your skills and demonstrate improvements on an independent measure of cognitive skills?
  • Has the program demonstrated that improvements in cognitive skills transfer to academics, workplace tasks and everyday life?
  • What kind of support will you have to ensure results?
  • Is the program convenient to participate in?

Download Cognitive Training Program Checklist

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