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Neuropsychology. 2016 Sep;30(6):742-55. doi: 10.1037/neu0000235. Epub 2015 Nov 16.

The mechanisms of far transfer from cognitive training: Review and hypothesis.

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The ARCH Laboratory, Psychology Department, George Mason University.



General intelligence is important for success in daily life, fueling interest in developing cognitive training as an intervention to improve fluid ability (Gf). A major obstacle to the design of effective cognitive interventions has been the paucity of hypotheses bearing on mechanisms underlying transfer of cognitive training to Gf. Despite the large amounts of money and time currently being expended on cognitive training, there is little scientific agreement on how, or even whether, Gf can be heightened by such training.


We review the relevant strands of evidence on cognitive-training-related changes in (a) cortical mechanisms of distraction suppression, and (b) activation of the dorsal attention network (DAN). We hypothesize that training-related increases in control of attention are important for what is termed far transfer of cognitive training to untrained abilities, notably to Gf.


We review the evidence that distraction suppression evident in behavior, neuronal firing, scalp electroencephalography, and hemodynamic change is important for protecting target processing during perception and also for protecting targets held in working memory. Importantly, attentional control also appears to be central to performance on Gf assessments. Consistent with this evidence, forms of cognitive training that increase ability to ignore distractions (e.g., working memory training and perceptual training) not only affect the DAN but also affect transfer to Gf.


Our hypothesis is supported by existing evidence. However, to advance the field of cognitive training, it is necessary that competing hypotheses on mechanisms of far transfer of cognitive training be advanced and empirically tested. (PsycINFO Database Record

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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