Working memory (WM) refers to the neurocognitive processes that allow for the short-term maintenance and manipulation of information. WM ability is associated with a host of positive outcomes, including intelligence and scholastic aptitude. Children facing early adversity tend to show deficits in WM and related executive function (EF) processes compared to their typically developing peers. These deficits likely contribute to disparities present in higher-level cognitive abilities such as IQ and academic performance. Although some existing interventions promote broad self-regulation skills, there is a need for low-intensity, affordable alternatives specifically aimed at improving EF. In recent empirical studies, researchers have demonstrated promising effects of cognitive training interventions;these paradigms involve the repeated practice on a specific cognitive domain over a relatively short duration. Researchers implementing WM training regimens, for example, have demonstrated impressive improvements on WM ability and fluid reasoning ability. Positive effects are seen in adults, children, and special-needs populations such as children with ADHD and children with low initial WM ability. However, no research to date has investigated the effects of WM training on a high- risk, low-income population. We propose implementing a 15-session WM training program in low-SES children (ages 8-11 years). The n-back task will be used for training;this task involves remembering a sequence of stimuli and reporting if the current stimulus matches the stimulus presented n items previously in the series. The value of n and, thus, the difficulty will adapt to individual participant performance throughout the training phase. A second group will practice a control task for the same duration and number of sessions. The families will be provided with a laptop computer to implement the training sessions in-home;the families will be instructed on the administration of sessions and provided on-call support from project staff members. WM ability, fluid reasoning and academic performance will be measured in both groups prior to and directly after the training phase. Additionally, to test for lasting effects of training, these same measures will be retested at a 3-month follow-up assessment.
We aim to determine the feasibility of the in-home training design. If successful, it would provide much needed ecological validity to cognitive training interventions We will also evaluate the effectiveness of the training paradigm in improving EF and potential transfer effects on fluid intelligence and academic achievement. Similarly, we wish to evaluate the degree to which improvements in these abilities may be long lasting. Further investigation of the effectiveness of cognitive training paradigms, especially in high-risk samples, is needed to assess the vast potential they hold as a cost-effective, low- intensity, and low-dosage alternative or supplement to traditional interventions.

Public Health Relevance

Short-term memory processes are fundamental to higher-level cognitive abilities such as intelligence and academic aptitude. Disparities in these abilitie, as seen at the neural and behavioral level, exist as a function of childhood SES. Cognitive-training interventions hold tremendous promise as an effective, brief, and economically viable treatment for improving short-term memory, reasoning, and scholastic abilities in high-risk populations.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Psychosocial Development, Risk and Prevention Study Section (PDRP)
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Freund, Lisa S
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Oregon Social Learning Center, Inc.
United States
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