Cognitive resilience is the capacity to both overcome the negative effects of stressors on cognitive function or performance and harness stress for greater cognitive performance.
People differ widely in cognitive resilience. Some individuals are able to take in their stride negative stressors such intense work demands, interpersonal conflict, financial pressures or even loss of employment and poor health – stressors that can be devastating to other individuals. And very often these same individuals seek out stressors (‘challenges’) to motivate better cognitive functioning and performance. Others try to stay in their comfort zone, and in the face of unavoidable stressors, concentration, memory, problem solving and decision-making are all impaired.
Finding effective interventions to improve cognitive resilience is more important than ever because (a) there has been a steady rise in stress levels over the past generation, and (b) much of this stress is due to workload that is typically the demand for high levels of cognitive performance.
Cognitive resilience reduces susceptibility to mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression and burnout, as well as dementia, Alzheimer’s. In recent years, UK doctors have been noticing a sharp uptick in visits from patients reporting stress, anxiety and dementia issues, and this trend is internationally widespread.
Cognitive resilience is one aspect of brain health. Brain health interventions focus on building resilience and preventing stress-related disorders, brain disease and cognitive decline with aging as well as retraining the brain to regain cognitive function. The most effective brain health interventions capitalize on the brain’s dynamic capacity to be strengthened in health and repaired after brain injury or brain disease.
Two major brain health problems common today are depression and anxiety.
Here we review evidence indicating that computerized cognitive training such as IQ Mindware can be of great benefit as an intervention for both depression and anxiety.
Depression is a condition in which a person feels discouraged, sad, hopeless, unmotivated or disinterested in life in general. When the feelings interfere with daily activities such as taking care of family, spending time with friends, or coping with work or school, this can be considered to be a major depressive episode.
A high quality Queens College/University of Columbia meta-analysis has just been published on the effects of computerized brain training on depression.
A meta-analysis involves combing all the publications on the topic and analysing them all for a reliable conclusion about the effectiveness of the intervention – e.g. brain training for depression. It’s known that a single study can occasionally report some effect when in fact there is no effect. Finding reliable, valid effects is what meta-studies are designed for.
This meta-study analysed 9 well-designed studies looking at brain training for depression.
The outcome measures in this review were:
- Symptom Severity (measures of mood and anxiety, such as the Beck Depression Inventory)
- Daily Functioning (measures of social skills, work ability, and mobility)
- Attention (tests for ability to maintain focus)
- Working Memory (measures of the ability to maintain and update information while performing tasks)
- Verbal Memory (the Hopkins Verbal Learning Test)
- Executive Functioning (measures of task switching, inhibition and verbal fluency)
- Global Functioning (general cognition measure, includes IQ test measures – the WAIS Verbal and Performance IQs)
The review found:
- Improvement in Depressive Symptoms and every day and Global Functioning.
- Improved working memory and attention
These are very impressive effects, and we can confidently conclude that training with IQ Mindware apps can help in a substantial way with depression.
Based on the collective scientific evidence, an effective set of interventions for depression emerges:
- moderate exercise
- computerized brain training (e.g. working memory training)
These brain cross-training strategies can be used concurrently with CBT, and help replace medication.
Anxiety disorders are characterized by exaggerated worry and tension, often expecting the worst even when there is no apparent reason for concern particularly with respect to money, work, health, and relationships. Individuals suffering from anxiety may suffer sleep disorders, feel on edge, and be constantly monitoring for potential threats.
This University of London and Gent University study looked at the effects of just three weeks of n-back training (implemented in IQ Mindware) on high anxiety individuals.
As with the depression studies, training effects were substantial:
“Our results showed that …training related gains were associated with lower levels of trait anxiety at post (vs pre) intervention. Our results demonstrate that adaptive working memory training in anxiety can have beneficial effects on attentional control and cognitive performance that may protect against emotional vulnerability in individuals at risk of developing clinical anxiety.”
Both depression and anxiety can thus be treated with the right kind of computerized brain training, complementing other brain health strategies.
IQ Mindware Users
These meta-analysis and lab results are consistent with user feedback from my own working memory training software – for those individuals who have been interested in brain training for stress, anxiety or depression:
“Since I am diagnosed with bipolar type -1 and ADHD, my anxiety and stress levels are very high at times. Currently, I am in university where the workload and social anxiety has caused me great anxiety in the classrooms. I am always second guessing my IQ and always never want to appear “stupid” to anyone. Due to this, I have played many brain training games and you are the only brain training game I have stuck with.” (J. G., University Student)
“I noticed a difference in being able to respond rather than react to negative emotions in others. I achieved a distance that allowed me to approach the situation from a more constructive angle, rather than allow their response to trigger a knee-jerk style reaction in me. I also noticed an increase in the amount of things I could keep in my mind at one time, which in turn reduces the sense of being overwhelmed. That would lead to a reduction in stress in most people if they have any sense of being overwhelmed.” (J.L.)
IQ Mindware Apps
If you are interested in finding out more about the IQ Mindware app i9 for brain performance, resilience and health you can do so at this website.