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Although prior research has shown that cognitive training may improve cognition for schizophrenia patients, it is currently unclear which domains of cognition should be targeted in training. One suggestion is to target low- or mid-level cognitive processes. In particular, working memory (WM) and processing speed (PS) have been named as two key areas of impairment in schizophrenia, and two domains of cognition that are linked to higher-order cognition and daily functioning. This study aimed to investigate the near-transfer (transfer of gains to related contexts), far-transfer (transfer of gains to unrelated contexts), and real-world gains associated with WM and PS training in schizophrenia.
Eighty-three participants with schizophrenia were recruited and randomly assigned to computerized WM training, PS training, or a no-training control group. Outcome measures included WM, PS, fluid intelligence, executive functioning, social cognition, and daily functioning and symptoms.
PS training led to significant gains in untrained PS tasks, as well as gains in far-transfer tasks that required speed of processing. WM training did not lead to gains in untrained WM tasks and showed inconsistent effects on some far-transfer tasks.
These results suggest some benefit of domain-specific cognitive training, specifically PS training, in schizophrenia. Far-transfer of gains to other cognitive domains and to real-world functioning may not occur after targeted WM or PS training, though non-specific effects (e.g. through behavioral activation, increased motivation) may lead to improvements in some tasks. Future studies should continue to investigate the mechanisms by which cognitive training may enhance cognition and functioning in schizophrenia.
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