Understanding Individual Differences

UC Riverside psychology professor receives $1.9 million grant to study memory training

Aaron Seitz sitting in a baseball stadium.

Aaron Seitz, director of the Brain Game Center and psychology professor at UC Riverside.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) – Aaron Seitz, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside and the director of the UCR Brain Game Center for mental fitness and wellbeing, and Susanne Jaeggi, an associate professor at the school of education at UC Irvine, have been awarded a $1.9 million grant to study memory training.

This grant will support UCR Brain Game Center’s mission to research, test, and disseminate evidence-based, scientifically optimized brain fitness games that transfer benefits to real-life activities. The Brain Game Center is the only university-based research center focused on research of brain training games, and it has a track record of making tested procedures publically available so that people can try them out for themselves.

With the grant, Seitz will be able to help address central questions in the controversial field of “brain training,” exercises that are meant to harness and direct the brain in ways that can enhance your overall performance and improve the quality of your life. Namely, it will look into how individuals may receive different outcomes from the same training method, and that the best approach may differ among individuals.

To date, the standard in the field is to engage a small group of people in a task and conclude from that whether a technique is effective.  To overcome this limitation, Seitz and Jaeggi will run a diverse array of training approaches on more than 30,000 people to understand which training approaches will lead to what types of benefits on different individuals. The idea is to move beyond examining the average effects of training toward understanding individual differences.

“There is accumulating evidence that working memory training impacts performance in a wide variety of tasks. However, to date, knowledge is extremely limited regarding the underlying mechanisms that mediate plasticity in working memory systems, and what components of training give rise to transfer to different tasks,” Seitz said.

According to Seitz, understanding the factors and individual differences that mediate successful learning is critical to understanding why some studies find benefits to brain training and others do not. This can lead to more helpful interventions for individuals with memory impairments, such as those stemming from mental health conditions, traumatic brain injury, or aging. It can also benefit those looking for a cognitive boost.

Seitz said the research can also help determine approaches that may not work, and help people avoid infective procedures.

The grant “Understanding Mediating and Moderating Factors that Determine Transfer of Working Memory Training,” comes from the National Institute of Mental Health. Seitz and Jaeggi will receive $1,929,278 over a five-year span.

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Aaron Seitz
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E-mail: aseitz@ucr.edu

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