Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Placebo effects in brain training

Foroughi et al. address the question of whether our desire to become smarter may blind us to the role of placebo effects in brain training regimes. They found that few published articles on cognitive training provide details regarding participant recruitment... whether participants were recruited overtly [e.g., “sign up for a brain training study” ] or covertly [e.g., “did not inform subjects that they were participating in a training study”]. The authors:
...designed a procedure to intentionally induce a placebo effect via overt recruitment. Our recruitment targeted two populations of participants using different advertisements varying in the degree to which they evoked an expectation of cognitive improvement. Once participants self-selected into the two groups, they completed two pretraining fluid intelligence tests followed by 1 h of cognitive training and then completed two posttraining fluid intelligence tests on the following day. Two individual difference metrics regarding beliefs about cognition and intelligence were also collected as potential moderators. The researchers who interacted with participants were blind to the goal of the experiment and to the experimental condition. Aside from their means of recruitment, all participants completed identical cognitive-training experiments. All participants read and signed an informed consent form before beginning the experiment.
Here are their summaries:

Placebo effects pose problems for some intervention studies, particularly those with no clearly identified mechanism. Cognitive training falls into that category, and yet the role of placebos in cognitive interventions has not yet been critically evaluated. Here, we show clear evidence of placebo effects after a brief cognitive training routine that led to significant fluid intelligence gains. Our goal is to emphasize the importance of ruling out alternative explanations before attributing the effect to interventions. Based on our findings, we recommend that researchers account for placebo effects before claiming treatment effects.
Although a large body of research shows that general cognitive ability is heritable and stable in young adults, there is recent evidence that fluid intelligence can be heightened with cognitive training. Many researchers, however, have questioned the methodology of the cognitive-training studies reporting improvements in fluid intelligence: specifically, the role of placebo effects. We designed a procedure to intentionally induce a placebo effect via overt recruitment in an effort to evaluate the role of placebo effects in fluid intelligence gains from cognitive training. Individuals who self-selected into the placebo group by responding to a suggestive flyer showed improvements after a single, 1-h session of cognitive training that equates to a 5- to 10-point increase on a standard IQ test. Controls responding to a nonsuggestive flyer showed no improvement. These findings provide an alternative explanation for effects observed in the cognitive-training literature and the brain-training industry, revealing the need to account for confounds in future research.

No comments:

Post a Comment