The long term objective of this project is to develop easily implemented multimodal interventions that can positively influence cognition, brain function, and well being of older adults. Two previously funded NIA studies conducted by our research team demonstrated the cognitive benefits of a novel, short-term intervention for older adults. Those studies consisted of four-week courses in the techniques used by professional actors to create lifelike characters, and resulted in gains on measures of recall, prose comprehension/memory, word generation, and problem-solving ability. In the first study, the participants were community-dwelling seniors. Improvements were measured against both no-treatment controls and alternative-treatment controls (art appreciation). The second study extended the findings to a far more at-risk population: adults who were almost a full decade older, less well educated, and who no longer lived in their own homes but in low income, continuing care facilities that were rarely able to offer specialized programs of mental stimulation. Once again, the benefits were demonstrated against no-treatment controls and an alternate intervention (musical performance). In the proposed present project we will substantially extend this research by investigating not just behavioral measures of improved cognition but also by examining changes in brain function and structure which result from acting instruction, as indexed by magnetic resonance imaging and functional magnetic resonance imaging. We will also extend our examination of the aspects of perception and cognition, with both laboratory tests and tests of everyday cognition, that are influenced by the acting intervention. We will also include control conditions that will enable us to discern the important mechanisms which underlie the benefits of our intervention on cognition and brain. Finally, we will examine whether changes in cognition and well- being attributed to the acting intervention persist over time.

Public Health Relevance

Given the aging of our population, and indeed many populations across the world, there is a pressing need for practical, low-cost tools to promote healthy cognitive aging. This application significantly extends an intervention previously shown to improve, after a short period of time, a number of aspects of cognition and well being of older adults.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Social Psychology, Personality and Interpersonal Processes Study Section (SPIP)
Program Officer
King, Jonathan W
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Organized Research Units
United States
Zip Code
Schwarb, Hillary; Watson, Patrick D; Campbell, Kelsey et al. (2015) Competition and Cooperation among Relational Memory Representations. PLoS One 10:e0143832
Noice, Tony; Noice, Helga; Kramer, Arthur F (2014) Participatory arts for older adults: a review of benefits and challenges. Gerontologist 54:741-53
Cramer, Steven C; Sur, Mriganka; Dobkin, Bruce H et al. (2011) Harnessing neuroplasticity for clinical applications. Brain 134:1591-609