Centre for Brain Research - The University of Auckland



Recent papers in Frontiers and TICS about common flaws in cognitive training experiments:

http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fnsys.2014.00161/full               http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1364661314000813
See also our latest experimental paper in Acta Psychologica:
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0001691815000323

Background
I am interested in the interaction between sensorimotor experience and cognition. Using various tools and techniques, ranging from traditional cognitive measurements to fMRI, tDCS, biomarker tracking and advanced modeling, my work suggests that 
sensorimotor experience shapes cognitive reasoning, with robust effects on spatial ability and working memory. I have further explored the underlying processes of such alterations, via experimental designs involving motor experts and novices. Recently, this line of research has led to cognitive enhancement programs based on motor training, in a novel approach departing from traditional work in cognitive training. 

Cognitive enhancement via behavioral training
A close look at the cognitive training literature shows that although this field of research is promising, it also faces many challenges. For example, a recent paper in Frontiers points out sampling error as a potential source of discrepancies in the training literature; another in TICS emphasizes common fallacious assumptions to explain some of the disagreements. Importantly, these discrepancies do not refute the core idea of cognitive enhancement, but rather emphasize the need to integrate complexity, novelty, and diversity to maximize the ecological validity of training regimens.

Combining physical and cognitive demands
Two main behavioral approaches have emerged in the cognitive enhancement paradigm, based on cognitive training and physical exercise, respectively. Both have demonstrated promising findings, but lack clear transfer to a wide variety of tasks (see here for an example in the spatial domain). In contrast with these paradigms, we have proposed a novel approach, based on complex motor training. Motor activities with high cognitive demands can be optimized to enhance cognition, with limited risks in terms of ratio involvement/reward. Besides cognitive improvements, 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.