Training and transfer of executive functions
This NSF funded project will investigate the nature of training related improvements in executive functions and the extent to which such training can improve performance on complex tasks such reasoning, problem solving and reading comprehension. Executive functions are general purpose control processes that allow us to monitor our behavior and to form and achieve our goals. They have been linked to individual differences in academic outcomes such reading, reasoning and mathematical performance. However, it is unclear whether improved executive functioning as the result of training will lead to general improvements in cognition and more specifically in academic performance. In a series of training studies, participants will be measured on a battery of cognitive tasks before and after 4 weeks of training on one or more executive functions. The resulting data will identify the most effective training program and whether there is any program for which there is meaningful transfer to complex real world tasks.
Update: We'll be presenting the results from our first study at the upcoming 53rd Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society, Minneapolis, Minnesota in November.
Research on Mindful Awareness and Contemplative Practices
The effects of media consumption and media multi-tasking on impulsiveness and executive function
Two active projects fall under this umbrella. The first is the work we have presented at the Annual Psychonomics Society Meetings in 2010 and 2011 in which we examined the well publicized claim made by Ophir, Nass, & Wagner (2009) that individuals who engage in a great deal of media multi-tasking such as texting while studying and listening to music etc. are actually worse at multi-tasking. They proposed that high multi-taskers are poorer at dealing with distracting information both from external sources and internal representations in memory. Using their Media Multi-tasking Index (MMI), we surveyed 200 C of I students on their multi-tasking behavior as well as their self-reported impulsiveness and self-control. We also invited 25 high and 25 low multi-taskers into the laboratory and tested them on measures of predictable task-switching, the attention network test and an item recognition task high in interference. While we did find the MMI score to be positively correlated with impulsiveness and negatively correlated with self-control and fluid intelligence, we did not find any differences between heavy and light users in attention, working memory capacity, task-switching or the ability to deal with interfering information in memory.
The second is our work looking at task-switching performance in expert video game players versus non-players where we found gamers had superior performance in task-switching, but only under certain conditions. This work was presented at the Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society and is currently under review.
This semester we will be testing whether certain forms of media can have a depleting effect on self-control and executive function as well as initiating studies of the effects of playing video games on non-gamers with the primary question being: Does playing video games improve working memory capacity and executive control?
The effects of stress on working memory capacity and academic performance in first-year college students
This is a project in conjunction with Jen Nelson in Residential Life and Dr. Luke Daniels in Biology. Stress has been shown to have a detrimental effect on cognition especially on working memory capacity (De Kloet, Oitzl, & Joels, 1999). Working memory capacity predicts performance on higher level cognitive tasks such as reading comprehension, reasoning and problem solving. In addition to affecting attention and memory processes, stress can have detrimental effects on an individual’s emotional and mental health (Andrews & Wilding, 2004). College students are a population that experience considerable stress (Robotham, 2008). However, the causes and effects of stress on the cognitive performance of college students and how any impairments are related to academic success are not well understood. The broad goal of this study is to examine how the stress of adjusting to college life impacts the academic performance of incoming students especially as pertaining to working memory performance. We are also gathering preliminary data on what factors may prove to be predictive of which students experience the most stress and suffer the greatest declines in cognitive performance due to stress.
The relationship between normal variations in tidiness and preference for organization and individual differences in personality and cognitive performance
We are exploring the relationship between tidiness and personality as well as possible differences in cognitive performance between tidy and messy individuals.