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Characterizing behavioral and brain changes associated with practicing reasoning skills

  • Author(s): Mackey, AP
  • Miller Singley, AT
  • Wendelken, C
  • Bunge, SA
  • et al.

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© 2015 Liu et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. We have reported previously that intensive preparation for a standardized test that taxes reasoning leads to changes in structural and functional connectivity within the frontoparietal network. Here, we investigated whether reasoning instruction transfers to improvement on unpracticed tests of reasoning, and whether these improvements are associated with changes in neural recruitment during reasoning task performance. We found behavioral evidence for transfer to a transitive inference task, but no evidence for transfer to a rule generation task. Across both tasks, we observed reduced lateral prefrontal activation in the trained group relative to the control group, consistent with other studies of practice-related changes in brain activation. In the transitive inference task, we observed enhanced suppression of task-negative, or default-mode, regions, consistent with work suggesting that better cognitive skills are associated with more efficient switching between networks. In the rule generation task, we found a pattern consistent with a training-related shift in the balance between phonological and visuospatial processing. Broadly, we discuss general methodological considerations related to the analysis and interpretation of training-related changes in brain activation. In summary, we present preliminary evidence for changes in brain activation associated with practice of high-level cognitive skills.

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