“A tablet a day and what I could do was limitless. I learned to play the piano in three days. Math became useful. (…) Even half-listening to any language, I became fluent. (…) Everything I had ever read, heard, seen was now organized and available.”
The above passage is not from my personal diary. These lines are from the 2011 blockbuster Limitless, a popular movie depicting the tribulations of a young writer who discovers a pharmaceutical enhancer that unleashes his cognitive capabilities. Despite some scientific approximations in the ideas put forward in the synopsis, the movie clearly illustrates one of people’s wildest dreams, in our increasingly competitive societies: discovering an efficient means to enhance cognition. The miracle pill is not here yet, and improving one’s cognitive function is not going to be effortless in the near future. Yet, new trends in behavioral interventions offer a promising venue for cognitive training.
The recent craze for so-called brain training demonstrates the popular interest for cognitive enhancement. Logically, this trend is reflected in massive funding opportunities around experimental studies of cognitive training, either pharmaceutical or behavioral, clearly indicating the excitement surrounding this field of research and its potential to spill over numerous applied domains.
Yet how can cognition, in essence general and ubiquitous, be trained with a specific program? It seems somewhat counterintuitive to expect changes transferable to many everyday tasks from training in a single activity. Two main behavioral approaches have emerged in the cognitive enhancement paradigm, based on cognitive training and physical exercise, respectively. Both have demonstrated interesting findings, but lack clear transfer to a wide variety of tasks. In contrast with these rather restricted paradigms, we propose a novel approach, based on complex motor training (Moreau & Conway, 2013). Motor activities with high cognitive demands can be optimal to enhance cognition, with limited risks in terms of ratio involvement-reward. Besides the cognitive outcomes, motor activities also induce important health benefits, supported by decades of research on physical exercise. In line with this idea, our latest experimental findings demonstrate that combining cognitive and physical demands within ad hoc activities represents an optimal way to target wide and general cognitive improvements (Moreau, Morrison, & Conway, under review).