Concentrated guidance: attention training gives kids a cognitive push.

Author:Bower, B.
 
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A brief course on how to pay attention boosts children's scores on either intelligence or attention tests, depending on their age, a new study finds.

The training may quicken normal brain development, says a team of neuroscientists led by Michael I. Posner of the University of Oregon in Eugene. Earlier research had indicated that brain areas involved in controlling attention in the presence of conflicting information develop rapidly between ages 4 and 6.

Over 2 or 3 weeks, Posner's team administered five training sessions to 4-year-olds and 6-year-olds. The younger kids showed higher IQ boosts--than the older ones, greater attention gains--than untrained kids did, the researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers also noted that their study showed enhanced electric signaling in the brains of the children who received the training. Genetic differences, which the researchers analyzed in the 6-year-olds, influenced training effects too.

Attention training "could potentially lead to better intervention strategies for children with attention and other behavior problems." according to Karla Holmboe and Mark H. Johnson, both neuroscientists at the Uni versity of London in England, in a comment published with the new study.

Posner and his colleagues recruited 49 kids in the younger group and 24 in the older group. The children received intelligence and attention testing while most of them wore sensor nets on their heads to measure electrical signals on the brain's surface. Then, the children were randomly assigned to receive attention training or no training.

The training was adapted from tasks that increase attention control in monkeys. For example, children moved a cartoon cat across a computer screen using a joystick to keep the cat out of the expanding muddy areas.

After training, all the children were again tested on intelligence and attention.

Brain regions activated in...

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