Adaptive task difficulty influences neural plasticity and transfer of training

Kristin E. Flegal, J. Daniel Ragland, Charan Ranganath

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


The efficacy of cognitive training is controversial, and research progress in the field requires an understanding of factors that promote transfer of training gains and their relationship to changes in brain activity. One such factor may be adaptive task difficulty, as adaptivity is predicted to facilitate more efficient processing by creating a prolonged mismatch between the supply of, and the demand upon, neural resources. To test this hypothesis, we measured behavioral and neural plasticity in fMRI sessions before and after 10 sessions of working memory updating (WMU) training, in which the difficulty of practiced tasks either adaptively increased in response to performance or was fixed. Adaptive training resulted in transfer to an untrained episodic memory task and activation decreases in striatum and hippocampus on a trained WMU task, and the amount of training task improvement was associated with near transfer to other WMU tasks and with hippocampal activation changes on both near and far transfer tasks. These findings suggest that cognitive training programs should incorporate adaptive task difficulty to broaden transfer of training gains and maximize efficiency of task-related brain activity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)111-121
Number of pages11
StatePublished - Mar 1 2019


  • Cognitive training
  • Executive function
  • fMRI
  • Memory
  • Plasticity
  • Transfer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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