Training attentional control in infancy

Curr Biol. 2011 Sep 27;21(18):1543-7. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2011.08.004. Epub 2011 Sep 1.


Several recent studies have reported that cognitive training in adults does not lead to generalized performance improvements [1, 2], whereas many studies with younger participants (children 4 years and older) have reported distal transfer [3, 4]. This is consistent with convergent evidence [5-8] for greater neural and behavioral plasticity earlier in development. We used gaze-contingent paradigms to train 11-month-old infants on a battery of attentional control tasks. Relative to an active control group, and following only a relatively short training period, posttraining assessments revealed improvements in cognitive control and sustained attention, reduced saccadic reaction times, and reduced latencies to disengage visual attention. Trend changes were also observed in spontaneous looking behavior during free play, but no change was found in working memory. The amount of training correlated with the degree of improvement on some measures. These findings are to our knowledge the first demonstration of distal transfer following attentional control training in infancy. Given the longitudinal relationships identified between early attentional control and learning in academic settings [9, 10], and the causal role that impaired control of attention may play in disrupting learning in several disorders [11-14], the current results open a number of avenues for future work.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology*
  • Cognition
  • Conditioning, Psychological
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Reaction Time
  • Time Factors