After more and more experience with cognitive training protocols, and looking at the developing research, I believe that we should begin to investigate more specific types of cognitive training rather than broad “batteries” of training. What I refer to by “battery” are the currently-popular software packages that include a diverse set of tasks that focus on everything from sustained attention through short-term memory to high-level reasoning.
Why focus on specific tasks? I think there are two reasons why our research and training should focus on more specific tasks. The first is that if we show the usefulness of a broad range of tasks, we don’t know which ones (or combinations of them) actually are related to any improvement we see on other tasks. The second is that if people spend, say, 10 minutes a day on 6 tasks, and improve on a measure of memory, we don’t know whether only one of those tasks caused the improvement. If only 10 minutes of training improves someone’s functioning, what might happen if a person did that training task 20 minutes a day?
Studies by Jaeggi and others have suggested that one specific type of training (one that focuses on working memory) may improve a person’s performance on a measure of fluid intelligence. The ACTIVE trial (sponsored by the National Institute on Aging) showed persisting benefits of specific kinds of training over years.
I think the next step is not to continue to try to show that training on a range of tasks can help people. More studies may show improved outcomes, but being able to remember one more word on a list learning task is of questionable importance to most people. What may actually help is the development of cognitive training regimens that target specific problem areas. Karlene Ball (who developed the Useful Field of View, now marketed in a package from Posit Science) helped to do this with a focus on driving. It may be possible to do this for common problems such as medication adherence.
That’s why I think we should be focusing on how specific kinds of training generalize to other abilities.
If you are already training, why not consider making yourself a research subject? Look at one specific cognitive task, and do it regularly for at least a month, better yet, two. Track your performance on what you hope to do better at. You could even rate yourself every week. Also take a look at your mood, and how good you feel about your cognitive abilities. Be systematic about what you’re doing, and you may find what works best for you.