Research shows strategic thinking strengthens intellectual capacity

April 28, 2014
Credit: Rice University

Strategy-based cognitive training has the potential to enhance cognitive performance and spill over to real-life benefit according to a data-driven perspective article by the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience. The research-based perspective highlights cognitive, neural and real-life changes measured in randomized clinical trials that compared a gist-reasoning strategy-training program to memory training in populations ranging from teenagers to healthy older adults, individuals with brain injury to those at-risk for Alzheimer's disease.

"Our brains are wired to be inspired," said Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHeath and Dee Wyly Distinguished University Chair at The University of Texas at Dallas. "One of the key differences in our studies from other interventional research aimed at improving is that we did not focus on specific cognitive functions such as speed of processing, memory, or learning isolated new skills. Instead, the gist reasoning training program encouraged use of a common set of multi-dimensional thinking strategies to synthesize information and elimination of toxic habits that impair efficient brain performance."

The training across the studies was short, ranging from 8 to 12 sessions delivered over one to two months in 45 to 60 minute time periods. The protocol focused on three cognitive strategies—strategic attention, integrated reasoning and innovation. These strategies are hierarchical in nature and can be broadly applied to most complex daily life mental activities.

At a basic level, research participants were encouraged to filter competing information that is irrelevant and focus only on important information. At more advanced levels, participants were instructed to generate interpretations, themes or generalized statements from information they were wanting or needing to read, for example. Each strategy built on previous strategies and research participants were challenged to integrate all steps when tackling mental activities both inside and outside of training.

"Cognitive gains were documented in trained areas such as abstracting, reasoning, and innovating," said Chapman. "And benefits also spilled over to untrained areas such as memory for facts, planning, and problem solving. What's exciting about this work is that in randomized trials comparing gist reasoning training to , we found that it was not learning new information that engaged widespread brain networks and elevated cognitive performance, but rather actually deeper processing of information and using that information in new ways that augmented brain performance.

Strengthening intellectual capacity is no longer science fiction; what used to seem improbable is now in the realm of reality."

Positive physical changes within the brain and cognitive improvement across populations in response to strategy-based mental training demonstrate the neuro-regenerative potential of the brain.

"The ability to recognize, synthesize and create the essence of complex ideas and problems to solve are fundamental skills for academic, occupational and real-life success," Chapman said. "The capacity to enhance cognition and complex neural networks in health, after injury or disease diagnosis will have major implications to preventing, diagnosing and treating cognitive decline and enhancing in youth to prepare them for an unknown future and in middle age to older adults who want to remain mentally robust."

Explore further: Use it or lose it: Mind games help healthy older people too

Related Stories

Use it or lose it: Mind games help healthy older people too

March 27, 2012

Cognitive training including puzzles, handicrafts and life skills are known to reduce the risk, and help slow down the progress, of dementia amongst the elderly. A new study published in BioMed Central's open access journal ...

Preventing cognitive decline in healthy seniors

April 15, 2013

Cognitive training exercises—or mental exercise—may help prevent cognitive decline in healthy older adults, while evidence for the benefits of pharmacologic substances and exercise is weak, outlines a review published ...

Recommended for you

Umbilical cells help eye's neurons connect

November 24, 2015

Cells isolated from human umbilical cord tissue have been shown to produce molecules that help retinal neurons from the eyes of rats grow, connect and survive, according to Duke University researchers working with Janssen ...

Brain connections predict how well you can pay attention

November 24, 2015

During a 1959 television appearance, Jack Kerouac was asked how long it took him to write his novel On The Road. His response – three weeks – amazed the interviewer and ignited an enduring myth that the book was composed ...

No cable spaghetti in the brain

November 24, 2015

Our brain is a mysterious machine. Billions of nerve cells are connected such that they store information as efficiently as books are stored in a well-organized library. To this date, many details remain unclear, for instance ...

Neurons encoding hand shapes identified in human brain

November 23, 2015

Neural prosthetic devices, which include small electrode arrays implanted in the brain, can allow paralyzed patients to control the movement of a robotic limb, whether that limb is attached to the individual or not. In May ...

Wireless sensor enables study of traumatic brain injury

November 23, 2015

A new system that uses a wireless implant has been shown to record for the first time how brain tissue deforms when subjected to the kind of shock that causes blast-induced trauma commonly seen in combat veterans.

Neuroscientists reveal how the brain can enhance connections

November 18, 2015

When the brain forms memories or learns a new task, it encodes the new information by tuning connections between neurons. MIT neuroscientists have discovered a novel mechanism that contributes to the strengthening of these ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.