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The Benefits and Challenges of Implementing Motivational Features to Boost Cognitive Training Outcome

Abstract

In the current literature, there are a number of cognitive training studies that use N-back tasks as their training vehicle; however, the interventions are often bland, and many studies suffer from considerable attrition rates. An increasingly common approach to increase participant engagement has been the implementation of motivational features in training tasks; yet, the effects of such “gamification” on learning have been inconsistent. To shed more light on those issues, here, we report the results of a training study conducted at two Universities in Southern California. A total of 115 participants completed 4 weeks (20 sessions) of N-back training in the laboratory. We varied the amount of “gamification” and the motivational features that might make the training more engaging and, potentially, more effective. Thus, 47 participants trained on a basic color/identity N-back version with no motivational features, whereas 68 participants trained on a gamified version that translated the basic mechanics of the N-back task into an engaging 3D space-themed “collection” game (Deveau et al. Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, 8, 243, 2015). Both versions used similar adaptive algorithms to increase the difficulty level as participants became more proficient. Participants’ self-reports indicated that the group who trained on the gamified version enjoyed the intervention more than the group who trained on the non-gamified version. Furthermore, the participants who trained on the gamified version exerted more effort and also improved more during training. However, despite the differential training effects, there were no significant group differences in any of the outcome measures at post-test, suggesting that the inclusion of motivational features neither substantially benefited nor hurt broader learning. Overall, our findings provide guidelines for task implementation to optimally target participants’ interest and engagement to promote learning, which may lead to broader adoption and adherence of cognitive training.

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Notes

  1. We administered an additional Face-Name Recall task; however, due to floor performance and technical difficulties, we did not include this task in any of our analyses.

  2. Regression analysis were conducted for each group with training gain as the dependent variable and age and gender as the independent variables (R 2 = 0.003, β = 0.06, p = 0.27). Furthermore, the correlation between the training gain and enjoyment did not differ by gender in the Recall group (M = − 0.12 and F = − 0.07).

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported by the National Institute of Health grant no. 1R01MH111742-01 to A.R.S. and S.M.J. M.B. is employed at the MIND Research Institute, whose interest is related to this work, and S.M.J. has an indirect financial interest in the MIND Research Institute.

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Correspondence to Susanne M. Jaeggi or Aaron R. Seitz.

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Mohammed, S., Flores, L., Deveau, J. et al. The Benefits and Challenges of Implementing Motivational Features to Boost Cognitive Training Outcome. J Cogn Enhanc 1, 491–507 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41465-017-0047-y

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Keywords

  • Gamification
  • Motivation
  • Brain training
  • Cognitive training
  • Task engagement