Plasticity of Executive Control through Task Switching Training in Adolescents

Front Hum Neurosci. 2012 Mar 26:6:41. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00041. eCollection 2012.


Research has shown that cognitive training can enhance performance in executive control tasks. The current study was designed to explore if executive control, specifically task switching, can be trained in adolescents, what particular aspects of executive control may underlie training and transfer effects, and if acute bouts of exercise directly prior to cognitive training enhance training effects. For that purpose, a task switching training was employed that has been shown to be effective in other age groups. A group of adolescents (10-14 years, n = 20) that received a three-session task switching training was compared to a group (n = 20) that received the same task switching training but who exercised on a stationary bike before each training session. Additionally, a no-contact and an exercise only control group were included (both ns = 20). Analyses indicated that both training groups significantly reduced their switching costs over the course of the training sessions for reaction times and error rates, respectively. Analyses indicated transfer to mixing costs in a task switching task that was similar to the one used in training. Far transfer was limited to a choice reaction time task and a tendency for faster reaction times in an updating task. Analyses revealed no additional effects of the exercise intervention. Findings thus indicate that executive control can be enhanced in adolescents through training and that updating may be of particular relevance for the effects of task switching training.

Keywords: executive control; physical exercise; plasticity; sport; task switching; training; transfer; updating.