Brain-training, aimed at advancing and improving cognitive and perceptual abilities, is vastly studied because of its immense promise. Yet, there are major controversies regarding its main claim that intensive weeks’ training on a single challenging task could improve performance in related untrained tasks. Ample training studies showing transfer were criticized for flawed design. We now explored the impact of perceptual training (auditory frequency discrimination), applying a carefully controlled intensive training experiment. First, we administered a battery of perceptual, linguistic, and cognitive tasks to a large population to determine “near” to “far” tasks according to (pretraining) correlations in performance. This assessment revealed significant correlations between simple pitch discrimination and complex linguistic tasks, including reading and syntactic reasoning. Second, we administered a broad test battery before (and after) training, which included several tasks assessing pitch discrimination, and the linguistic tasks that showed pretraining correlation with auditory frequency discrimination. The test group trained with 2 tone frequency discrimination for 40 sessions. An active control group trained with a working memory (n-back) task for the same duration, and a passive control group was only tested before and after training. Pretraining performance levels were similar in the three groups. Our results were straightforward. No transfer was found to untrained tasks that rely on pith discrimination, or to linguistic tasks that showed pretraining correlation. Mild to marginal transfer was found only to pitch discrimination tasks using almost exactly the trained protocol.
Bibliographical notePublisher Copyright:
© 2019 American Psychological Association
- frequency discrimination
- learning generalization
- perceptual learning
- skill acquisition
- transfer effect