Karen Z. H. Li, Halina Bruce, and Rachel Downey
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Psychology. Please check back later for the full article.
Research on the interplay of cognition and mobility in old age is inherently multidisciplinary, informed by findings from lifespan developmental psychology, kinesiology, cognitive neuroscience, and rehabilitation sciences. Early observational work from the field of cognitive aging revealed strong connections between sensory and sensorimotor performance with measures of intellectual functioning. Subsequent observational results have revealed more specific links between measures of cognitive control and gait quality. Convergent evidence for the interdependence of cognition and mobility is seen in patient studies, wherein cognitive impairment is associated with increased frequency and risk of falling. Even in cross-sectional studies involving healthy young and older adults, the effects of aging on postural control and gait are commonly exacerbated when participants perform a motor task with a concurrent cognitive load. This motor-cognitive, dual-task method, borrowed from cognitive psychology, assumes that cognitive and motor domains compete for common capacity, and that older adults recruit more cognitive capacity than young adults to support gait and posture.
With the increasing availability of neuroimaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imagery (MRI), observational studies have revealed associations between measures of mobility (e.g., gait velocity and postural control) and measures of brain health (e.g., gray matter volumes, cortical thickness, white matter integrity, and functional connectivity). Notably, the cortical regions and circuits most often associated with aging and mobility also appear to subserve high-level cognitive functions such as executive control, attention, and working memory. Recent innovations in portable functional neuroimaging have allowed for the examination of neural functioning during real-time walking, often in conjunction with detailed spatiotemporal measures of gait. Finally, another scientific strategy that addresses the interdependence of cognitive and motor processes in old age is cognitive remediation. Borrowing again from cognitive psychology, intervention studies involving cognitive training have yielded promising improvements in balance, walking, and overall mobility status in healthy older adults, and those with age-related neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease.
Dyslexia, or a reading disability, occurs when an individual has great difficulty at the level of word reading and decoding. Comprehension of text, writing, and spelling are also affected. The diagnosis of dyslexia involves the use of reading tests, but the continuum of reading performance means that any cutoff point is arbitrary. The IQ score does not play a role in the diagnosis of dyslexia. Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability. The cognitive difficulties of dyslexics include problems with recognizing and manipulating the basic sounds in a language, language memory, and learning the sounds of letters. Dyslexia is a neurological condition with a genetic basis. There are abnormalities in the brains of dyslexic individuals. There are also differences in the electrophysiological and structural characteristics of the brains of dyslexics. Hope for dyslexia involves early detection and intervention and evidence-based instruction.
DeMond M. Grant and Evan J. White
Cognitive control is the ability to direct attention and cognitive resources toward achieving one’s goals. However, research indicates that anxiety biases multiple cognitive processes, including cognitive control. This occurs in part because anxiety leads to excessive processing of threatening stimuli at the expense of ongoing activities. This enhanced processing of threat interferes with several cognitive processes, which includes how individuals view and respond to their environment. Specifically, research indicates that anxious individuals devote their attention toward threat when considering both early, automatic processes and later, sustained attention. In addition, anxiety has negative effects on working memory, which involves the ability to hold and manipulate information in one’s consciousness. Anxiety has been found to decrease the resources necessary for effective working memory performance, as well as increase the likelihood of negative information entering working memory. Finally, anxiety is characterized by focusing excessive attention on mistakes, and there is also a reduction in the cognitive control resources necessary to correct behavior. Enhancing our knowledge of how anxiety affects cognitive control has broad implications for understanding the development of anxiety disorders, as well as emerging treatments for these conditions.
Barbi Law, Phillip Post, and Penny McCullagh
Modeling and imagery are distinct but related psychological skills. However, despite sharing similar cognitive processes, they have traditionally been investigated separately. While modeling has shown similar psychological and physical performance benefits as imagery, it remains an understudied technique within applied sport psychology. Social cognitive and direct perception approaches remain often-used explanations for the effectiveness of modeling on skill acquisition; however, emergent neuropsychological explanations provide evidence to support these earlier theories and a link to the imagery literature.
With advances in technology and the development of applied frameworks, there is renewed interest in exploring modeling effects and how they parallel imagery use in applied settings. Specifically, modeling research has expanded beyond controlled laboratory settings to explore the effect of various theoretical models on motor performance and related cognitions within practice and competitive settings. The emergence of affordable video editing technology makes it easy for coaches and athletes to incorporate modeling into practice. The accessibility of video technology has sparked applied research on how various forms of modeling influence motor performance and cognitions, such as confidence and motivation. These applied investigations demonstrate the complementary nature of modeling and imagery in enhancing sport performance and skill acquisition, while highlighting the challenges in separating modeling and imagery effects. Both literatures offer possibilities for new methodological approaches and directions for studying these psychological skills in tandem as well as independently. Thus, there is much that imagery and modeling researchers can learn from each other in sport and other performance settings.
Jennifer L. Etnier
There is substantial interest in identifying the behavioral means by which to improve cognitive performance. Recent research and commercial ventures have focused on cognitive training interventions, but evidence suggests that the effects of these programs are small and task-specific. Researchers have also shown interest in exploring the potential benefits of physical activity for cognitive performance. Because the effects of physical activity have been found to be small to moderate and to be more global in nature, interest in physical activity has been growing over the past several decades. Evidence regarding the efficacy of physical activity is provided through cross-sectional studies, longitudinal prospective studies, and randomized controlled trials. When reviewed meta-analytically, small-to-moderate beneficial effects are reported for children, adults, older adults, and cognitively impaired older adults, and these effects are evident for a wide range of cognitive domains, including executive function, memory, and information processing. Researchers are currently focused on identifying the mechanisms of these effects. Most of this research has been conducted using animal models, but there is a growing body of literature with humans. From this evidence, there is support for the role of changes in cerebral structure, hippocampal perfusion, and growth factors in explaining the observed benefits. Thus far, however, the literature is quite sparse, and future research is needed to clarify our understanding of the mechanisms that provide the causal link between physical activity and cognitive performance. Research is also focused on understanding how to increase the benefits by potentially combining cognitive training with physical activity and by identifying the genetic moderators of the effects. These lines of work are designed to elucidate ways of increasing the magnitude of the benefits that can be obtained. At this point in time, the evidence with respect to the potential of physical activity for benefiting cognitive performance is quite promising, but it is critical that funding agencies commit their support to the continued exploration necessary to allow us to ultimately be able to prescribe physical activity to specific individuals with the express purpose of improving cognition.
Robin I. M. Dunbar
Primate societies are unusually complex compared to those of other animals, and the need to manage such complexity is the main explanation for the fact that primates have unusually large brains. Primate sociality is based on bonded relationships that underpin coalitions, which in turn are designed to buffer individuals against the social stresses of living in large, stable groups. This is reflected in a correlation between social group size and neocortex size in primates (but not other species of animals), commonly known as the social brain hypothesis, although this relationship itself is the outcome of an underlying relationship between brain size and behavioral complexity. The relationship between brain size and group size is mediated, in humans at least, by mentalizing skills. Neuropsychologically, these are all associated with the size of units within the theory of mind network (linking prefrontal cortex and temporal lobe units). In addition, primate sociality involves a dual-process mechanism whereby the endorphin system provides a psychopharmacological platform off which the cognitive component is then built. This article considers the implications of these findings for the evolution of human cognition over the course of hominin evolution.
Arthur Wingfield, Alexis Johns, and Nicole Ayasse
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Psychology. Please check back later for the full article.
The comprehension of spoken language is a complex skill that, in any language, requires the listener to map the acoustic input onto the meaningful units of speech (phonemes, syllables, words). At the sentence level, the listener must detect the syntactic structure of the utterance in order to determine the semantic relationships among the spoken words. This culminates in comprehension at the discourse and narrative level. Each higher level of analysis is thus dependent on successful processing at the prior level, beginning with perception at the phoneme and word levels.
Unlike reading, where one can use eye movements to control the rate of input, speech is a transient signal that moves past the ears at an average rate of 140 to 180 words per minute. Whatever processing cannot be completed online, as the speech is arriving, must be accomplished on a fading trace of the speech input in memory. Although seemingly automatic in young adults, comprehension of rapid speech places a heavy burden for older adults, who often exhibit a combination of reduced working memory resources and slower processing rates, as observed across a number of perceptual and cognitive domains. An additional challenge arises from reduced hearing acuity that often occurs in adult aging. A major concern is that, even with only mild hearing loss, the listening effort required for success at the perceptual level may draw resources that would ordinarily be available for encoding what has been heard in memory, or comprehension of syntactically complex speech. On the positive side, older adults have compensatory support from preserved linguistic knowledge, including the procedural rules for its use. Our understanding of speech perception in adult aging thus rests on our understanding of such sensory-cognitive interactions.
Human visual development is a complex dynamic psychological/neurobiological process, being part of the developing systems for cognition, action, and attention. This article reviews current knowledge and methods of study of human visual development in infancy and childhood, in relation to typical early visual brain development, and how it can change in developmental disorders, both acquired (e.g., related to at-risk births) and genetic disorders. The newborn infant starts life with a functioning subcortical visual system which controls newborn orienting to nearby high contrast objects and faces. Although visual cortex may be active from birth, its characteristic stimulus selectivity and control of visual responses is generally seen to emerge around six to twelve weeks after birth. By age six months the infant has adequate acuity and contrast sensitivity in nearby space, and operating cortical mechanisms for discriminating colors, shapes, faces, movement, stereo depth, and distance of objects, as well as the ability to focus and shift attention between objects of interest. This may include both feedforward and feedback pathways between cortical areas and between cortical and subcortical areas. Two cortical streams start to develop and become interlinked, the dorsal stream underpinning motion, spatial perception and actions, and the ventral stream for recognition of objects and faces. The neural systems developing control and planning of actions include those for directed eye movements, reaching and grasping, and the beginnings of locomotion, with these action systems being integrated into the other developing subcortical and cortical visual networks by one year of age. Analysis of global static form (pattern) and global motion processing allows the development of dorsal and ventral streams to be monitored from infancy through childhood. The development of attention, visuomotor control and spatial cognition in the first years show aspects of function related to the developing dorsal stream, and their integration with the ventral stream.
The milestones of typical visual development can be used to characterize visual and visuo-cognitive disorders early in life, such as in infants with perinatal brain injuries and those born very prematurely. The concept of “dorsal stream vulnerability” is outlined. It was initially based on deficits in global motion sensitivity relative to static form sensitivity, but can be extended to the planning and execution of visuomotor actions and problems of attention, together with visuospatial and numerical cognition. These problems are found in the phenotype of children with both genetic developmental disorders (e.g., Williams syndrome, autism, fragile-X, and dyslexia), and in acquired developmental disorders related to very preterm birth, or in children with abnormal visual input such as congenital cataract, refractive errors, or amblyopia. However, there are subtle differences in the manifestation of these disorders which may also vary considerably across individuals. Development in these clinical conditions illustrates the early, but limited, plasticity of visual brain mechanisms, and provides a challenge for the future in designing successful intervention and treatment.