HARP computerized training 

Research background

This is a 2-year NIH-funded pilot study, and is part of a larger NIH-funded research program known as the Healthy Aging Research Program (HARP). We are currently recruiting people over age 60 with healthy cognition to study the effects of computerized cognitive training on social well-being.

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Emerging evidence from social neuroscience suggests that prefrontal cortex (PFC), insular and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) regulate social and emotional responses to acute threats to social connectedness among young adults. Reduced neural reserve and/or excessive neural compensation resulting from neurodegeneration is commonly observed in these frontal regions in aging. This aging-related "neural depletion" may have implications for how older adults respond to social threats, potentially increasing maladaptive emotional and social behavioral responses, such as social anxiety and social avoidance, which contribute to social disconnection.

 

We have recently developed a neuroplasticity-based cognitive training program called vision-based speed of processing (VSOP) training, which targets multiple aspects of cognitive capacity (e.g., attention, working memory, and inhibition) and incorporates the speed component to improve the efficiency of these cognitive processes. VSOP training also targets several neural networks seeded in ACC and insular (default mode network) or PFC (the frontal-striatal and central executive networks), which overlap with neural substrates of emotion regulation. Notably, VSOP training appears to improve emotion regulation, as depressive symptoms have been reduced in older adults following VSOP training.

Research aims

The objective of this study is to provide proof-of-concept for the hypothesis that improvements in older adults' cognitive capacity and the neural efficiency of frontal regions via VSOP training will be associated with more adaptive social-emotional response to social exclusion, which, in turn, should confer longer-term protection for older adults' sense of social connection. Several social-emotional paradigms are being conducted to evaluate VSOP training effects on social-emotional responses to social exclusion, including anxiety and motivation for social affiliation.

A social-emotional paradigm in which subjects play a ball game with other players