Structural plasticity of the social brain: Differential change after socio-affective and cognitive mental training

Plasticité structurelle du "cerveau social": changements suite à un entrainement socio-affectif et cognitif


Valk, S. L., Bernhardt, B. C., Trautwein, F. M., Böckler, A., Kanske, P., Guizard, N., ... & Singer, T. (2017). Structural plasticity of the social brain: Differential change after socio-affective and cognitive mental training. Science Advances3(10), e1700489.

DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700489


Although neuroscientific research has revealed experience-dependent brain changes across the life span in sensory, motor, and cognitive domains, plasticity relating to social capacities remains largely unknown. To investigate whether the targeted mental training of different cognitive and social skills can induce specific changes in brain morphology, we collected longitudinal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data throughout a 9-month mental training intervention from a large sample of adults between 20 and 55 years of age. By means of various daily mental exercises and weekly instructed group sessions, training protocols specifically addressed three functional domains: (i) mindfulness-based attention and interoception, (ii) socio-affective skills (compassion, dealing with difficult emotions, and prosocial motivation), and (iii) socio-cognitive skills (cognitive perspective-taking on self and others and metacognition). MRI-based cortical thickness analyses, contrasting the different training modules against each other, indicated spatially diverging changes in cortical morphology. Training of present-moment focused attention mostly led to increases in cortical thickness in prefrontal regions, socio-affective training induced plasticity in frontoinsular regions, and socio-cognitive training included change in inferior frontal and lateral temporal cortices. Module-specific structural brain changes correlated with training-induced behavioral improvements in the same individuals in domain-specific measures of attention, compassion, and cognitive perspective-taking, respectively, and overlapped with task-relevant functional networks. Our longitudinal findings indicate structural plasticity in well-known socio-affective and socio-cognitive brain networks in healthy adults based on targeted short daily mental practices. These findings could promote the development of evidence-based mental training interventions in clinical, educational, and corporate settings aimed at cultivating social intelligence, prosocial motivation, and cooperation.

Video gamers have an advantage in learning / Jouer à des jeux vidéos favoriserait l'apprentissage

(see related scientific article below / voir l'article scientifique source plus bas)

Science Daily
Click here to access outreach article / Cliquer ici pour accéder à cet article de vulgarisation

Neuropsychologists let video gamers compete against non-gamers in a learning competition. During the test, the video gamers performed significantly better and showed an increased brain activity in the brain areas that are relevant for learning.

Dans une tâche compétitive d'apprentissage, des neuropsychologues ont confronté des adeptes de jeux vidéos à des "non joueurs". Pendant cette tâche, les adeptes de jeux vidéos ont significativement mieux performé et ont fait preuve d'une activité cérébrale plus grande dans les régions associées à l'apprentissage. 


Games people play: How video games improve probabilistic learning

Schenk, S., Lech, R. K., & Suchan, B. (2017). Games people play: How video games improve probabilistic learning. Behavioural Brain Research335, 208-214.

DOI: 10.1016/j.bbr.2017.08.027


Recent research suggests that video game playing is associated with many cognitive benefits. However, little is known about the neural mechanisms mediating such effects, especially with regard to probabilistic categorization learning, which is a widely unexplored area in gaming research. Therefore, the present study aimed to investigate the neural correlates of probabilistic classification learning in video gamers in comparison to non-gamers. Subjects were scanned in a 3 T magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner while performing a modified version of the weather prediction task. Behavioral data yielded evidence for better categorization performance of video gamers, particularly under conditions characterized by stronger uncertainty. Furthermore, a post-experimental questionnaire showed that video gamers had acquired higher declarative knowledge about the card combinations and the related weather outcomes. Functional imaging data revealed for video gamers stronger activation clusters in the hippocampus, the precuneus, the cingulate gyrus and the middle temporal gyrus as well as in occipital visual areas and in areas related to attentional processes. All these areas are connected with each other and represent critical nodes for semantic memory, visual imagery and cognitive control. Apart from this, and in line with previous studies, both groups showed activation in brain areas that are related to attention and executive functions as well as in the basal ganglia and in memory-associated regions of the medial temporal lobe. These results suggest that playing video games might enhance the usage of declarative knowledge as well as hippocampal involvement and enhances overall learning performance during probabilistic learning. In contrast to non-gamers, video gamers showed better categorization performance, independently of the uncertainty of the condition.

Probabilistic categorization learning; Video games; Hippocampus; Enrichment of environment

The role of mathematical anxiety and working memory on the performance of different types of arithmetic tasks

Le rôle de l'anxiété et de la mémoire de travail sur la performance dans différentes tâches mathématiques


Ashkenazi, S., & Danan, Y. (2017). The role of mathematical anxiety and working memory on the performance of different types of arithmetic tasks. Trends in Neuroscience and Education7, 1-10.

DOI: 10.1016/j.tine.2017.05.001


Goal of the current study was to compare the respective roles of domain general cognitive skills with domain specific quantitative understanding, as well as the effect of math anxiety, on the performance of different types of arithmetic tasks. Fifty-eight adults performed a battery of tests. We found dissociations between domain general abilities that supported verbally or spatially mediated arithmetic tasks. The verbally mediated tasks were supported by the verbal central executive component of working memory, while the spatially mediated task, number line knowledge, was supported by the spatial central executive component of working memory. Different tasks had differential relationships with math anxiety: math anxiety effected school-like math tasks more than verbally mediated tasks and number line task. Math anxiety was negatively influenced by the spatial central executive component of working memory, indicating that spatial working memory can be a source of vulnerability to math anxiety.

Working memory; Mathematical anxiety; Approximate number sense; Arithmetic; Verbal code of number

Effect of abacus training on executive function development and underlying neural correlates in Chinese children

Effet d'un entrainement avec boulier sur le développement des fonctions exécutives et corrélats neuraux sous-jacents


Wang, C., Weng, J., Yao, Y., Dong, S., Liu, Y., & Chen, F. (2017). Effect of abacus training on executive function development and underlying neural correlates in Chinese children. Human Brain Mapping.

DOI: 10.1002/hbm.23728


Executive function (EF) refers to a set of cognitive abilities involved in self-regulated behavior. Given the critical role of EF in cognition, strategies for improving EF have attracted intensive attention in recent years. Previous studies have explored the effects of abacus-based mental calculation (AMC) training on several cognitive abilities. However, it remains unclear whether AMC training affects EF and its neural correlates. In this study, participants were randomly assigned to AMC or control groups upon starting primary school. The AMC group received 2 h AMC training every week, while the control group did not have any abacus experience. Neural activity during an EF task was examined using functional MRI for both groups in their 4th and 6th grades. Our results showed that the AMC group performed better and faster than the control group in both grades. They also had lower activation in the frontoparietal reigons than the control group in the 6thgrade. From the 4th to the 6th grade, the AMC group showed activation decreases in the frontoparietal regions, while the control group exhibited an opposite pattern. Furthermore, voxel-wise regression analyses revealed that better performance was associated with lower task-relevant brain activity in the AMC group but associated with greater task-relevant brain activity in the control group. These results suggest that long-term AMC training, with calculation ability as its original target, may improve EF and enhance neural efficiency of the frontoparietal regions during development.

Dispelling the myth: Training in education or neuroscience decreases but does not eliminate beliefs in neuromyths

Une formation en éducation ou en neurosciences réduit les neuromythes, mais ne les élimine pas complètement

Macdonald, K., Germine, L., Anderson, A., Christodoulou, J. & McGrath, L. M. (2017). Dispelling the myth: Training in education or neuroscience decreases but does not eliminate beliefs in neuromyths. Frontiers in Psychology.

DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01314


Neuromyths are misconceptions about brain research and its application to education and learning. Previous research has shown that these myths may be quite pervasive among educators, but less is known about how these rates compare to the general public or to individuals who have more exposure to neuroscience. This study is the first to use a large sample from the United States to compare the prevalence and predictors of neuromyths among educators, the general public, and individuals with high neuroscience exposure. Neuromyth survey responses and demographics were gathered via an online survey hosted at We compared performance among the three groups of interest: educators (N=598), high neuroscience exposure (N=234), and the general public (N=3045) and analyzed predictors of individual differences in neuromyths performance. In an exploratory factor analysis, we found that a core group of 7 “classic” neuromyths factored together (items related to learning styles, dyslexia, the Mozart effect, the impact of sugar on attention, right-brain/left-brain learners, and using 10% of the brain). The general public endorsed the greatest number of neuromyths (M=68%), with significantly fewer endorsed by educators (M=56%), and still fewer endorsed by the high neuroscience exposure group (M=46%). The two most commonly endorsed neuromyths across all groups were related to learning styles and dyslexia. More accurate performance on neuromyths was predicted by age (being younger), education (having a graduate degree), exposure to neuroscience courses, and exposure to peer-reviewed science. These findings suggest that training in education and neuroscience can help reduce but does not eliminate belief in neuromyths. We discuss the possible underlying roots of the most prevalent neuromyths and implications for classroom practice. These empirical results can be useful for developing comprehensive training modules for educators that target general misconceptions about the brain and learning.

neuromyths, educational neuroscience, learning styles, dyslexia, neuroeducation