Boosting brain functions: Improving executive functions with behavioral training, neurostimulation, and neurofeedback

Int J Psychophysiol. 2013 Apr;88(1):1-16. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2013.02.001. Epub 2013 Feb 13.


Cognitive enhancement is a popular topic, attracting attention both from the general public and the scientific research community. Higher cognitive functions are involved in various aspects of everyday life and have been associated with manifest behavioral and psychiatric mental impairments when deteriorated. The improvement of these so-called executive functions (EFs) is of high individual, social, and economic relevances. This review provides a synopsis of two lines of research, investigating the enhancement of capabilities in executive functioning: a) computerized behavioral trainings, and b) approaches for direct neuromodulation (neurofeedback and transcranial electrostimulation). Task switching, memory updating, response inhibition, and dual task performance are addressed in terms of cognitive functions. It has been shown that behavioral cognitive training leads to enhanced performance in task switching, memory updating, and dual tasks. Similarly, direct neurocognitive modulation of brain regions that are crucially involved in specific EFs also leads to behavioral benefits in response inhibition, task switching, and memory updating. Response inhibition performance has been shown to be improved by neurostimulation of the right inferior frontal cortex, whereas neurostimulation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex exerts effects on task switching and memory updating. Due to a lack of consistency in experimental methods and findings, a comparison of different training approaches concerning their effectiveness is not yet possible. So far, current data suggest that training gains may indeed generalize to untrained tasks aiming at the same cognitive process, as well as across cognitive domains within executive control.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neurofeedback*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Teaching*