Pandemic Parenting Tips from the American Psychological Association
I love when I can share tips that have been cultivated by other experts in brainy communities like the APA. Here are some great links to resources for moms and dads looking for a little advice on the challenges of parenting in a pandemic. Enjoy!
Surprising Answers to 3 Common Questions About the Brain
1. Do Learning Styles Exist?
Nope. That’s a myth. And one that just keeps hanging on despite the plethora of scientific evidence that learning styles don’t exist! All children are capable of learning visually, auditorily, and kinesthetically unless they have a physical disability affecting one or more of their senses (hearing impairment, sight impairment, missing a hand). Now before you get all bent out of shape about this, I will clarify that just because they are capable of learning in multiple ways does not mean they prefer to learn in multiple ways. I, for example, dislike listening to learn. I want to read about a topic, not have someone tell me about it. But, I am still capable of learning about it either way. I simply have a preference, not a style.
But don’t just take my word for it. In a fascinating study last year, Polly Husmann and Valerie O’Laughlin—researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine—asked students their self-identified learning style. Then, they correlated the students’ study methods with their “learning style” and with their science test scores and found that 67% of students used study methods unrelated to their self-identified learning style; and the students that studied with a method that matched their self-identified learning style did not perform better on their science tests than the students who didn’t study according to their style. (You can read the study published in Anatomical Sciences Education.)
So, what do we do with this knowledge? Well, the content and level of prior knowledge about the content should determine the method of instruction for the most part. But, when possible, teachers should still continue to create activities that appeal to a wide variety of preferences. By mixing up the methods of instruction, teachers can increase engagement and motivation in the classroom. Perhaps we can refer to this as a variety of instructional styles and leave the learning styles moniker behind for good.
2. Is there such a thing as Left-Brained and Right-Brained?
Nope. That’s a myth, too. This one’s gonna be tough. You know why? Because the belief in hemispheric domination is so pervasive. Sanne Dekker and colleagues at LEARN! Institute conducted a study on teachers’ beliefs about the brain and found that 91% erroneously believed that imbalances between the right and left side of the brain explains individual learning differences. 91%! Well, just like there aren’t true learning styles, there aren’t true right-brained or left-brained classifications for people. You know the types, right? Right brained people are supposed to be creative while left-brained people are supposed to be analytical. That sort of dichotomous thinking implies that scientists can’t be creative and that writers can’t be analytical. What about science writers? What about accountants who play a musical instrument? What about fashion designers who operate global businesses? These are extreme examples of people who need both traits. And arguably have them both. So, that dispels the myth, yes?
Okay. Don’t take my word for it. In a really cool fMRI study conducted by Nelsons and his colleagues at University of Utah, there were no global left-brained or right-brained types identified. It’s a myth. You can be both creative AND analytical. But, there are areas of the brain that are predominately responsible for different functions. For example, we know that the language areas of the brain are mostly housed in the left side, and that attention is controlled largely in the right side of the brain. But if you perform MRI scans of artists and mathematicians, you won’t find significant variations. So, how do we stop perpetuating this myth? Get the word out, folks. Share the science.
3. Is Neuroplasticity Real? (Can the brain really change?)
People will usually believe the prevailing wisdom of the day. For a long time, it was believed that the world was flat. Until it wasn’t. And for a long time, it was believed that the brain could not be changed once it was fully developed. Until it could. This one’s easy, folks. Neuroplasticity is NOT a myth. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s amazing ability to change with experience. From birth through death, the brain is malleable, changeable, pliable, and plastic. The action in neuroplasticity includes neurogenesis—or the creation of new neurons; as well as neural reassignment—or the ability of an undamaged area of the brain to take over the function of a damaged area by creating new connections in the brain. Neurogenesis is well-established in childhood but is under continuous debate in adulthood. Some research suggests we produce new neurons in the hippocampus throughout our lifetime while other research suggests we don’t. Regardless, new neuronal activity in some form—especially neural reassignment—is lifelong!
How can we take advantage of neuroplasticity to change the brain? That’s a great question! Any activity that engages the brain is beneficial, but targeted and sustained intense experiences are more likely to effectively drive neuroplasticity—like those found in cognitive training or cognitive rehabilitation.
So, there you have it. Answers to three common questions about the brain that are frequently misunderstood. To wrap up, learning styles are a myth, there’s no such thing as right-brained or left-brained, and neuroplasticity is real!
Ernst, A., & Frisén, J. (2015). Adult neurogenesis in humans- common and unique traits in mammals. PLoS biology, 13(1), e1002045. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1002045
Husmann, P. & O’Laughlin,V. (2018). Another nail in the coffin for learning styles? Disparities among undergraduate anatomy students’ study strategies, class performance, and reported vark learning styles. Anatomical Sciences Education, 12, 6-19.https://doi.org/10.1002/ase.1777
Nielsen, J.A., Zielinski, B.A., Ferguson,M.A., Lainhart, J.E., Anderson, J.S. (2013). An evaluation of the left-brain vs. right-brain hypothesis with resting state functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging. PLOS ONE 8(8): e71275. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0071275
Sorrells, S., Paredes, M., Cebrian-Silla, A. et al. (2018). Human hippocampal neurogenesis drops sharply in children to undetectable levels in adults. Nature,555,377–381. doi:10.1038/nature25975
Skeptical of Teletherapy? 4 Reasons to Feel Good about Therapy via Videoconference
As we navigate our uncertain and temporary at-home reality, things look a little different for many of us right now. One area that may be causing some stress is how to continue with your current therapeutic interventions like counseling, psychotherapy, speech therapy, play therapy, or cognitive training while quarantined at home. But I have good news for you. Nearly every type of therapy can be continued through videoconferencing technologies, or teletherapy! And here are 4 reasons you can feel confident about the teletherapy option.
1. Teletherapy works as well as face-to-face therapy
Research has shown that virtual therapy is equally as beneficial as in-person therapy. There are thousands (yes, thousands) of studies comparing the efficacy of a variety of teletherapies to their face-to-face counterparts. For example, a study comparing teletherapy to face-to-face therapy for depression revealed greater improvements in depressive symptoms for the teletherapy group—benefits that were still evident three months later.1 Studies on teletherapy for PTSD2 and eating disorders3 showed similar outcomes for clients receiving teletherapy and face-to-face therapy.
This comprehensive list of more than 1000 teletherapy research studies provided by the Telebehavioral Health Institute and thousands more teletherapy studies categorized by the National Consortium of Telehealth Resource Centers show that teletherapy has been effective for weight loss, chronic pain, diabetes management, depression and anxiety, stress management, autism, ADHD, developmental disabilities, insomnia, eating disorders, post-partum depression, trauma, cognitive disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, substance abuse, aphasia, movement disorders, and traumatic brain injury using a variety of therapies including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psychotherapy, counseling, mindfulness training, psychiatric care, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, pharmacotherapy, cognitive processing therapy, caregiver behavior training, and functional communication training. And this was just a description of some of the studies. There are more conditions and more teletherapy interventions listed on both resources.
2. Teletherapy makes help more accessible
Typically, we choose a therapist within 20 miles of our home. Not only can using technology give us access to our therapists during times of quarantine or other world emergencies, we can also harness the power of technology to deliver therapies to people who don’t live near a therapist. This is a huge benefit. At a time when we are closing our brick-and-mortar business doors to practice “social distancing” guidance, it’s fantastic that our therapies can continue virtually without interruption. Plus, there’s no traffic, no parking fees or spaces to compete for, and no fuel costs!
3. Teletherapy offers more variety
Not every therapy is available in every town. For example, it’s difficult to find outpatient cognitive rehabilitation for memory and attention problems after a concussion. Teletherapy technology removes the barrier for people living in towns without a cognitive rehab option. Looking for cognitive training for your child but can’t find it in your town? Not a problem either. You can receive one-on-one cognitive training in your living room via videoconferencing (check out www.LearningRx.com or www.BrainRx.com). Through teletherapy venues, you can access counseling, speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, rehabilitation, primary care, and more! The Telehealth Resource Centers has a fantastic database of telehealth providers searchable by region and type of therapy.
4. Teletherapy provides privacy and flexibility
Maybe you are avoiding therapy because you don’t want to be seen walking into a mental health clinic? Teletherapy allows you to meet with a therapist in the privacy of your home or office. Shut your door, put on your headphones, and spend an hour receiving the help you need without giving up your privacy. The “town gossip” will never know. (Not that her opinion matters anyway.) Or perhaps you travel frequently and can’t commit to weekly appointments. Not a problem. Teletherapy is available no matter where you are. You can meet with your therapist from home, at your office, in your hotel room, or at your Great Aunt Trudy’s house. Anywhere with internet!
The takeaway today? These were just four of many reasons to feel confident that teletherapies of all kinds are great options and just as effective as face-to-face interventions. That’s great news, especially in these uncertain times of social distancing. Help is available, accessible, flexible, private, and…it works!
Want more information about teletherapy? Check out all the resources I mentioned as well as these:
References cited in this article: 1. Wagner, B., Horn, A. B., and Maercker, A. (2014). Internet-based versus face-to-face cognitive-behavioral intervention for depression: A randomized controlled non-inferiority trial. Journal of Affective Disorders, 152-154, 121-133. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2013.06.032
2. Acierno, R., Knapp, R., Tuerk, P., Gilmore, A. K., Lejuez, C., Ruggiero, K., et al. (2017). A non-inferiority trial of Prolonged Exposure for posttraumatic stress disorder: In-person versus home-based telehealth. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 89, 57–65. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2016.11.009
3. Mitchel, J. E., Crosby, R. D., Wonderlich, S. A., Crow, S., Lancaster, K., Simonich, H., Swan-Kremeier, L., Lynse, C., and Myers, T. C. (2008). A randomized trial comparing the efficacy of cognitive-behavioral therapy for bulimia nervosa delivered via telemedicine versus face-to-face. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 46(5), 581-592. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2008.02.004
5 Ways to Make At-Home Learning Successful for Your Child while Maintaining Your Own Sanity
Schools are closed. You’re working from home AND trying to supervise your child’s learning. You are not a teacher, you have no desire to be a teacher, you enjoy letting someone else be your child’s teacher, and now you are about to lose your mind. This is not what you signed up for when you became a parent. In the middle of a pandemic, most parents are in a similar boat. So, here are 5 tips to take some of the pressure off. As an educational and cognitive psychologist, child development specialist, and a former teacher of teachers, here’s my expert advice to help you maintain your sanity while your kids are learning at home:
1. Stop Hovering
No need for helicoptering. There is a huge difference between homeschooling and attending school from home. Your child’s teacher is still his/her primary educator. Your role is to provide a comfortable environment, any needed supplies, and assistance. It’s a support role. Let’s face it, you have your own responsibilities. Whether you’re working remotely, taking care of younger children, figuring out creative meals with limited access to ingredients, or trying to continue managing your regular household routines (laundry, dishes, housekeeping), you have a life outside of monitoring your child’s remote learning. LIVE THAT LIFE. Do your best to maintain as many of your regular routines as you can. Offer guidance to your child as needed. Ask for assistance from your child’s teacher if necessary. Relax your expectations. A month or two of reduced academic rigor will not destroy your child’s educational journey. And enjoy the added facetime you have with your family right now. It’s a good time to just love each other.
While many experts are touting the importance of setting up a structured learning environment for your child at home, I’m saying, “Wait a minute. Not so fast.” The research on alternative seating in classrooms is undeniably positive. So, as parents, we need to get it out of our heads that the “desks in rows” classroom arrangement that we grew up with is what we need to approximate in our homes right now. Instead, shift your paradigm. Let your child choose a comfortable place to learn. Soft seating is easier on his growing body than a hard chair. And, the freedom to choose where to sit is empowering, motivating, and a surefire way to increase his engagement in the learning task. My 15-year old came flying down the stairs the first day of at-home learning telling all of us how much he enjoyed his math class in bed. If my high schooler says he enjoyed math class, do I really care where he was sitting? Let him love math! So, let your child choose. A soft chair in the living room, a recliner in the basement, a cushioned window seat above the garage, a bed, or the sunroom sofa can all provide a personal and comfortable learning space. It’s okay. Really.
3.Don’t Micromanage Your Child’s Schedule
If your child has “live” lessons to attend, then it’s important to ensure he is present during those class times. Absolutely provide her with assistance logging in on time if needed. Everything else? Forget the clock. It’s just too stressful for you to worry about your child’s productivity all day while maintaining your own. Instead, spend 10 minutes each morning helping your child plan his day. Help her create a to-do list of assignments, tasks that need to be completed, recorded lessons to watch, and any other school requirements. Then, set a deadline. For example, school tasks need to be completed by 3pm or 6pm or even 9pm—whatever works best for your family. Then, give your child the freedom to read, eat, play a video game, or chat with friends throughout the day to ensure they have learning breaks and stay socially connected. At the end of the day, review the to-do list with your child and provide guidance as needed. This is a great way to teach self-regulation and responsibility. You may have to make adjustments based on your child’s age and maturity level—some children can handle more wiggle room in their schedules than others. And a lunchtime check-in might also be needed for some. But, overall, the chance to help determine one’s own schedule is empowering, motivating, and can increase engagement! (Sound familiar?) And it takes pressure off you to micromanage your child’s day. It’s just not necessary. Really.
4. Connect with Your Child
As scary and uncertain as we feel right now, this can be an even scarier time for children. Their world has been turned upside down, too. So, keep their need to be reassured in mind when they interrupt you during the day. Plan for those interruptions. It may mean that you have to finish your work after they go to bed. Or that you get up an hour early each day to get some work in before your child is up. Plan for that. If you start each day anticipating interruptions, those interruptions will seem less irritating when they happen. Your child’s emotional health is more important than any work—yours or his—during this time. So, connect with him. Reassure her. Smile when your child speaks to you. Look up from your computer screen, make eye contact, speak gently, and connect. You can set boundaries. Times when they need to wait to talk to you. (Like during Zoom meetings!) But, put a sign up or pass them a note saying when you will be free. I use a sticky note with the exact time such as, “I’m in a meeting. Come back at 1:15.” Add a smiley face or a heart. Connect. Really.
5. Ask for Help if Your Child is Struggling
Some children struggle to learn, regardless of the location. This may be the first time you are seeing your child struggle. It can be overwhelming, disconcerting, frustrating, and emotional when you realize your child is having a hard time with school. The good news? There are many resources available. You just need to ask for help. The first stop should be your child’s teacher. Find out what struggles she has noticed and how she has addressed them. If you have a child who is struggling with an advanced class like Calculus, the fix is easy. Find a tutor. There are lots of online tutoring options. But, if your child is struggling in more than one class, she may have an underlying problem that needs to be addressed. Many learning struggles are caused by weak cognitive skills like memory, attention, and speed of information processing. A brain trainer can help strengthen those skills to make learning easier. Consider a consultation with LearningRx whose brain trainers can work with your child remotely via videoconferencing. Ultimately, there are many resources. Even though doors are closed right now, virtual technology allows helping professionals to continue helping!
Some final thoughts. You’re reading and listening to a ton of advice right now. From experts, from bloggers, from your Facebook friends. It can be overwhelming, I know. If you take away nothing else from my advice, take this when it comes to your child’s experience with at-home learning: Put love first. Everything else will be okay. Really.
From my brain to yours,
Amy Lawson Moore, PhD Cognitive & Educational Psychologist Research Director Gibson Institute of Cognitive Research www.GibsonResearch.org
3 Things You Should Know about COVID-19 from a Chronically-Ill Scientist
I’m a psychologist, not an epidemiologist. But I have a PhD with advanced training in quantitative research and statistics, so I learn from reading science rather than from the media. I also have an autoimmune disease and live with chronic illness. That makes me a scientist with skin in the game. So, after reading the science about this virus, here are three things I want everyone to know about the COVID-19 outbreak.
1. A science lesson
For most people, catching the virus won’t make you too miserable. Your symptoms, if any, won’t feel any worse than a cold or flu. But, for those of us with chronic medical conditions, it can cause fatal pneumonia. Here’s how: COVID-19 is actually another SARS virus. It’s full acronym is SARS-COV-2 which stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) Coronavirus (COV) -2.
It’s believed that its ability to bind to our cells is 1000 times greater than other viruses and it’s 20 times more likely to bind to our cells. It’s more infective than the flu. The virus attaches to the ACE2 receptor enzyme in human cells. ACE2 receptors are found in the lungs, heart, small intestines, and throughout entire cardiovascular system. A normal immune response is localized to fight this invasion. But people with abnormal immune function will be subjected to a cytokine storm that creates widespread inflammation and cellular damage. Cytokines will make the air sacs in the lungs more permeable, allowing them to fill with fluid. The result is a severe pneumonia, and the damage to the lungs and even the heart can be permanent. The most severe cases of this pneumonia will require mechanical ventilation in the ICU. (See the math lesson below for the problem with this.)
2. A math lesson
The steps we are taking as a community to prevent the spread of this virus are grounded in simple supply and demand. Hospitals can only accommodate so many patients. There are only so many beds in the ICU and so many mechanical ventilators available. There are only so many health care providers who are healthy enough themselves to care for the sick. You’ve heard the term “flattening the curve”? Instead of trying to manage a spike in infections that overload the health care system all at once, the goal is to reduce the rate in which people become infected so that the health care system can keep up. Otherwise, there will not be enough hospital beds to accommodate the number of severe cases if we don’t reduce the rate in which this virus spreads. It’s that simple.
3. A social studies lesson
We do not live in isolation. Our actions impact others—in our families, workplaces, classrooms, social circles, churches, shopping centers, public transportation—anywhere we gather. The impact of this virus on your own health may be minimal. But this is about more than you.
As a society, if we care about others then we’ll care about reducing the impact of this virus on others. We’ll stop posting toilet paper memes on social media and have honest candid conversations with each other about the risks to the millions (yes, millions) of people in our country living with autoimmune illness, heart or lung disease, and other underlying medical conditions. If we care about others, we’ll stop criticizing the government for shutting down our country and start doing our part to protect the oldest members of our society—our parents and grandparents. If we care about others, we’ll stop being angry and irritated about the temporary inconveniences and show our children what it means to do the right thing in the face of adversity.
We are called to love our neighbor. If we love our neighbor, we’ll protect our neighbor. So, I am asking that without panic, without anger, without political judgement, without irritation, without complaining, without sarcasm…protect your neighbor. And with empathy, with patience, with love, with sincerity…protect your neighbor. It’s about more than just you.
Oh, and read the science. Here’s a selection to get you started:
Want some quick life wisdom from a psychologist? Don’t cry over spilled milk. Whether the milk is literally in a puddle on your dining room floor or you are figuratively fretting over the little things…today is not the day to worry about it. It’s Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk Day! Yes, that’s really a thing. (There’s also National Pizza Day and National Ice Cream Day, so clearly there is a food theme going on behind the scenes of America’s calendar planners.) But, today’s theme is useful. It reminds us not to sweat the small stuff. And in the big scheme of things, that’s an important way to live. For ourselves and for our relationships with others.
I’ve talked before about self-talk as a stress management tool, citing my colleague Dr. Teg McBride who says to tell ourselves during a stressful event, “Few things in life are terrible, horrible, or awful. Most are just uncomfortable or mildly inconvenient.” Although it might seem like a stressor, we’d be hard-pressed to classify spilled milk as anything but a mild inconvenience.
What’s spilling out of your glass today? Whatever it is, I challenge you to laugh instead of cry about it. Laughter releases endorphins, our body’s natural pain relievers. It also reduces stress, tension, and anxiety while simultaneously boosting the immune system. And the best part? You can pretend to laugh and get the same physical benefits. That’s right. Your body can’t tell the difference between real and fake laughter. So, go ahead and try it. (I bet your smile becomes real once you start.) Oh, and don’t forget to clean up that milk!
5 Reasons Your Child Might Need Brain Training (Not Tutoring)
Is your child struggling in school? As a parent, it’s sometimes difficult to choose the best intervention for your children. You ask the pediatrician, your child’s teacher, and even other parents for recommendations when what you really want is an expert in thinking and learning to just tell you what to do! Ah, if it were only that easy. It’s not. Every child has unique needs and there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for every learning struggle. But…here are 5 reasons to consider brain training for your child who is struggling to learn:
1. Your Child is Easily Distracted
Does your child have difficulty staying on task? (With the exception of video games which are engaging enough to hold even the most distractible child’s attention for long periods of time!) Children with poor attention skills struggle with concentration, persevering on difficult or unenjoyable tasks, or staying focused on the job at hand. They are easily distracted by noise and motion in their environment. (That’s where the squirrel jokes come from.) Perhaps your child even has a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or you suspect that may be the case. Brain training might help by targeting and remediating weak attention skills. There is a growing body of research to support the use of brain training for attention problems, particularly when the intervention is delivered in-person by a cognitive training specialist rather than on a computer.
2. Your Child is Struggling in More than One Class
The subjects your child is learning in school are all different, right? Math, science, social studies, and language arts don’t share many commonalities. So, if your child is only struggling in one of those subjects, chances are he may have missed some valuable instruction at some point. A tutor can help re-teach that critical information to help him catch up with the rest of the class. But, if your child is performing poorly in more than one class, the common denominator probably isn’t missed content. Instead, it may be a weakness in one or two underlying learning skills—called cognitive skills, or skills the brain uses for processing information. They include memory, attention, processing speed, reasoning, and visual and auditory processing to name a few. Brain training can strengthen weak cognitive skills that are needed for thinking and learning. But, it’s important to choose a brain training program that targets all of them—not just memory or attention. (That’s like having a broken arm and a broken leg but only putting a cast on one of them!)
3. Your child has difficulty reading and writing
Learning the English language is hard! With so many exceptions to all the rules, it’s no wonder many children struggle early on. (The brain isn’t designed for written language. That’s something we invented.) But, if your child received adequate reading instruction in school and still struggles to read and write fluently, she may have weak auditory processing skills. Auditory processing is the ability to analyze, blend, and segment speech sounds and to accurately connect the sounds to a corresponding code (letters or combinations of letters in the alphabet). Children who struggle to connect sounds to codes haven’t developed what we call phonemic awareness—a critical auditory processing skill required for reading and writing fluently. Auditory processing skills can be strengthened with a brain training program that targets these very specific skills. For the struggling reader, these skills won’t develop or improve without deliberate, focused assistance.
Homework Takes Extra Time and Too Much Effort for Your Child
Advanced Placement and Honors classes aside, schoolwork should take a reasonable amount of time and effort for your child to complete. If your child works very slowly and every line, word, or problem is effortful, there may be an underlying weakness in one or more cognitive skills. Processing speed is the rate in which your child can accurately take in information, use it, and accomplish a task. If processing speed is weak, tasks will take longer than they should. Frequently, weak processing speed is accompanied by a weakness in other cognitive skills—such as attention. Imagine how much of a struggle schoolwork can be for a child who cannot work as fast as his peers and is distracted by every noise and movement in the room! A brain training program that targets multiple cognitive skills may be the right choice for children like this. No amount of tutoring can change these struggles.
5. Tutoring Hasn’t Fixed Your Child’s Struggles
There are two aspects to learning: information and how we process information. A tutor provides information. Sometimes it’s new information that a child missed and sometimes it’s old information that just didn’t “stick” the first time it was taught. But if your child can’t effectively process the information, he can’t retain it or use it. If you’ve tried working with a tutor to help your child with his learning struggles and he’s still struggling, it may be an information processing problem…not an information problem. Recall that information is processed by multiple cognitive skills. A brain training program that targets those skills may be what your child needs to overcome his struggles with learning. Targeting the cause of the struggle—weak cognitive skills—should diminish the need to re-teach information over and over again.
5 Essential Ways LearningRx is Different from other Brain Training
The creators of every brain training program agree on one thing: that the brain is changeable. That’s the beauty of neuroplasticity—that the brain can change through exposure to certain experiences. It’s the nature of those experiences that differentiates the individual programs. As a cognitive psychologist and the research director for LearningRx, I am frequently asked how LearningRx is different from other brain training programs. I love this question because it’s so easy to answer! Although there are many differences, here are the top 5:
1. Human Delivery
LearningRx is delivered one-on-one, face-to-face across a table by a human cognitive trainer. Just like you can work out at the gym with a personal trainer, LearningRx pairs each student with their own personal brain trainer. The human relationship in brain training enhances outcomes in several ways. It is a key piece of the puzzle that is absent in digital brain games and computer-based training programs. Let’s look at four big benefits of human delivery.
Human delivery drives the development of self-efficacy, or one’s belief in his or her ability. A cognitive trainer can facilitate the development of self-efficacy for thinking and learning by modeling the tasks, providing mastery experiences over the tasks, giving verbal persuasion, and aiding the client in handling the physical response to stress.
Human delivery enables dynamic feedback. Research has shown over and over again that feedback improves treatment outcomes and reduces attrition or dropout. It also promotes transfer to real-life change. By helping a client see how he can apply a new skill learned in the training environment to a task in the real world, transfer is more likely to occur. We haven’t yet met a computer that can give specific feedback like that.
Human delivery enables adaptation of the program “on the fly”. A human trainer has the ability to modify the training tasks DURING the task. It’s important to push the client just beyond their ability level but be able to back off a little when the client becomes frustrated or agitated. If a task is too simple, it’s important to add complexity immediately to prevent boredom and to keep the client engaged. A human trainer can revisit tasks to drill down on specific weaknesses, change the rate of the completion, or alter the goals.
Human delivery increased treatment compliance. The number one predictor of therapy dropout is the relationship with the therapist. Human relationships can be the difference between finishing the intervention or dropping out. And a human trainer ensures that the intervention is delivered with fidelity…the way it was intended.
2. Cognitive Complexity
LearningRx brain training is complex. Why is complexity important in a brain training program? Because cognition is complex! According to the ever-evolving Cattell-Horn-Carrol theory of cognition—the most widely accepted model of intelligence and the basis of most gold standard intelligence tests—there are 18 broad cognitive abilities and more than 91 narrow abilities. If cognition is that complex, shouldn’t a brain training program be complex as well? LearningRx targets the multiple skills that underlie the ability to think and learn. Skills like working memory, long-term memory, processing speed, visual processing, auditory processing, attention, and reasoning. Programs that are only training one skill like working memory or attention are missing an opportunity to develop the many cognitive skills we use in thinking and learning.
3. Task Intensity
LearningRx brain training is intense! There are over 200 training procedures with more than a thousand variations that are sequenced in order of difficulty and complexity. Almost every training task requires students to respond “on beat” to a ticking metronome. This adds an element of intensity to each task by promoting the development of automaticity and preventing mental breaks. Clinical neuroscientist Christina Ledbetter, PhD suggests that it’s this intensity that trainers create in every training session that drives neuroplasticity. A computer program or mobile brain game app can’t create this same level of intensity.
4. Optional Programs for Reading, Math, and Study Skills
At LearningRx, improving cognitive skills is the primary goal. But many students have difficulty with reading and math as well. Whether this is from poor instruction at school or because of weak cognitive skills is irrelevant. Strengthening basic reading and math skills such as phonemic awareness, phonological processing, and numerical fluency provides a critical foundation for reading and math success. LearningRx has reading, math, and study skills interventions delivered through the same brain training approach as the cognitive skill-building program. This is indeed a unique aspect of the organization that sets LearningRx apart from other brain training companies.
4. Validated by Peer-Reviewed Research on its Programs
Ever heard the phrase, “In God we trust, all others bring data”? LearningRx has the data to support its program. Since 2016, there have been many research studies on LearningRx programs conducted and published in peer-reviewed medical, psychology, and education journals. Peer-review is the process of having independent experts critically evaluate the research before it can be published in a scientific journal. The published studies report results on LearningRx brain training for children with learning struggles and ADHD, as well adults with brain injury and age-related cognitive decline. There are other brain training games, apps, and companies without this scientific validation. (That doesn’t mean they don’t help, it just means they don’t have the evidence to support their program or product yet.) To read all of the research published on LearningRx brain training, visit Gibson Institute of Cognitive Research—the nonprofit research division of LearningRx.
So, these were my top 5 favorite differences between LearningRx and other brain training programs. There are certainly more. Like the fact that the original LearningRx training programs were created more than 35 years ago and that more than 100,000 brains have been trained using this methodology. My own son’s brain was one of them! If you want to hear his story, you can watch my talk, Train Your Brain, Transform Your Tomorrow.
Have questions? Leave a comment or reach out to LearningRx directly.
From my brain to yours!
Amy Lawson Moore, PhD Cognitive and Educational Psychologist Research Director Gibson Institute of Cognitive Research at LearningRx www.GibsonResearch.org
Brain training is a hot topic right now. Does brain training really work? That’s a great question and one that I’m frequently asked. My answer is most always, “It depends.” The outspoken critics of cognitive training have made it difficult to highlight the outstanding positive results that some researchers are finding. The challenge is that not all brain training programs are the same. There’s a big difference between a digital “brain game” and a therapeutic intervention delivered by a clinician. Just like there’s a big difference between playing a video game with fighter jets and actually flying a fighter jet. As the wife of a fighter pilot, I’ve been told that some of the tasks might seem similar…but it’s not the same thing!
“There’s a big difference between a digital ‘brain game’ and a therapeutic intervention delivered by a clinician.”
So when we read research on brain training that shows negative results, we can’t assume that all research on brain training shows negative results. That’s akin to saying that because one drug was found to be ineffective at curing strep throat that ALL drugs must then be ineffective at curing strep throat. We, of course, know that is not true! Why, then, are we so quick to generalize the findings from research on one brain training program to all other brain training programs? It’s certainly something about which I continue to shake my head.
The idea that brain training could work is grounded in the concept of neuroplasticity—that the brain is capable of changing through experience. We know that to be true. The bigger question is, “What types of experience are required to drive neuroplasticity?” Let’s answer that and get down to the business of saving our brains!