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IES Grant

Title: Combined Cognitive and Motivational Interventions for ADHD
Center: NCSER Year: 2015
Principal Investigator: Shah, Priti Awardee: University of Michigan
Program: Cognition and Student Learning in Special Education      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (7/1/2015-6/30/2019) Award Amount: $1,599,750
Type: Exploration Award Number: R324A150023

Co-Principal Investigators: Jonides, John; Jaeggi, Susanne

Purpose:The purpose of this project was to explore the mechanisms by which working memory improves on-task behaviors, attention, and academic outcomes for students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD affects 3-10% of children in the U.S. and isassociated with poor academic achievement. Given the prevalence and broad-rangingconsequences, improving academic achievement in children with ADHD is critical. A recent approach to intervention involves providing training in working memory, the cognitive system responsible for active maintenance and executive control. Although such interventions, including those developed by the research team in a prior IES grant, show encouraging results, there are several unresolved issues and remaining questions. Specifically, there are large individual differences in training outcomes, little evidence for real-life consequences of training, and limited information on the mechanisms that underlie training gains. Therefore, the primary aims of this research were to explore whether variations in a working memory intervention would lead to improved outcomes for students with ADHD, to assess the impacts of training on classroom behavior and academic achievement, and to understand individual differences in intervention outcomes.

Project Activities: The research team conducted a series of studies to test their primary aims. In Study 1, a motivation component targeting increased self-efficacy skills of students with ADHD was developed and tested on its own. In Study 2, a previously developed working memory intervention was modified and assessed. In Study 3, the motivation component (developed in Study 1) and the revised working memory intervention (modified in Study 2) were combined and tested to determine if they resulted in improved student outcomes. In Study 4, the research team examined individual differences in responses to the combined intervention.

Key Outcomes: The main findings of this project, as reported by the principal investigator, are as follows:

  • In Study 1, there was no evidence of improvement in student motivation as measured by survey and task measures of motivation. However, a qualitative analysis of parent reports suggested that children in the motivation group gained increased awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses, developed better confidence, and took greater ownership of their schoolwork.
  • Study 2 found that children who participated in the modified working memory intervention experienced significant transfer gains on measures of attention and inhibition, whereas children who received the original version did not.
  • Results from Studies 3 and 4 showed thatthere was an improvement in parent-reported ADHD symptoms among children who received the combined working memory and motivation intervention relative to children in the control group. Children in both conditions improved on measures of growth mindset. While there was no clear evidence of an overall treatment effect on cognitive measures, findings suggested that two groups of children—those who are younger and those with no comorbid conditions—showed improvements in cognitive functioning relative to the control group.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The research took place in laboratories and schools in Michigan and California.

Sample: Participants included 234 children ages 7 to 14 years with ADHD. In Study 1, 59 students participated; in Study 2, 73 students participated; in Studies 3 & 4, 102 students participated. Parents and teachers also participated by completing questionnaires about the children.

Factors: Components of a previously developed working memory intervention, in which participants remember increasingly longer sequences of items in a game-like environment, were varied or modified and tested to determine their impacts on student outcomes. Modifications included the addition of content addressing self-efficacy and information about the malleability of cognitive abilities, the use of incremental skill levels within the game environment to reduce student frustration, and enhancements of game-like features and player options to increase children's engagement in the task.

Research Design and Methods: The research team conducted a series of four randomized controlled trials to address their primary aims. Study 1 tested the effects of a motivation intervention for children with ADHD compared to a control. Study 2 tested the impact of a modified adaptivity procedure for the working memory training task compared to the original intervention. Study 3 tested whether or not the combined motivation and working memory intervention impacted classroom behavior and achievement compared to a control intervention. Lastly, for Study 4, the research team recruited additional students to participate in the combined motivation and working memory intervention and examined individual differences in training and transfer.

Control Condition: In Study 1, the control group participated in a study skills intervention. In Study 2, the control group was trained using a previous version of the working memory intervention before the modifications described earlier were made. In Study 3, the control group received a knowledge intervention that only minimally involved working memory. There was no control condition in Study 4.

Key Measures: Measures of working memory, response inhibition, sustained attention, fluid intelligence (ability to reason in novel contexts), on-task behavior during a homework activity, classroom behavior, ADHD symptomology, and motivation were included in this study. These measures included the Spatial n-back, Continuous Performance Task, D2 Task, Stop-signal Task, Conner's Rating Scale, Grit Scale, Spatial Persistence Task, Need for Cognition Scale, Theories of Intelligence Scale. Classroom behavior was measured by creating a simulated classroom environment in the laboratory and observing students' behavior.

Data Analytic Strategy: Researchers conducted analyses of variance or multivariate analyses of variance to explore the effects of the interventions. Differential models were used to examine individual differences in observed impacts of the intervention.

Related IES Projects: Training Working Memory and Executive Control in Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disordered Children (R324A090164)

Products and Publications

ERIC Citations: Find available citations in ERIC for this award here.

Book chapters

Katz, B., and Shah, P. (in press). Far Transfer may be Nearer Than you Think: Logical and Methodological Factors in Cognitive Training Research. In M. Bunting, J. Novick, M. Dougherty, and R. Engle (Eds.), Cognitive and Working Memory Training: Perspectives from Psychology, Neuroscience, and Human Development. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Katz, B., Jones, M., Shah, P., Buschkuehl, M., and Jaeggi, S. M. (2016). Individual Differences and Motivational Effects in Cognitive Training Research. In J. Karbach, and T. Strobach (Eds.), Cognitive Training: An Overview of Features and Activations. Springer International Publishing.

Tsai, N., Au., J., & Jaeggi, S. M. (2016). Working Memory, Language Processing, and Implications of Malleability for Second Language Acquisition. In G. Granena, D. O. Jackson, & Y. Yilmaz (Eds.). Cognitive Individual Differences in Second Language Processing and Acquisition (pp. 69–88). John Benjamins, Amsterdam.

Journal articles

Katz, B., Shah, P., & Meyer, D. (2018) How to Play 20 Questions with Nature and Lose: Reflections on 100 Years of Brain Training. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115(40), 9897–9904.

Tsai, N., Buschkuehl, M., Kamarsu, S., Shah, P., Jonides, J., (2018). (Un)Great Expectations: The Role of Placebo Effects in Working Memory Training. Journal of Applied Research in Memory & Cognition, 7(4), 564–573.

Katz, B., & Shah, P. (2017). The Role of Child Socioeconomic Status in Cognitive Training Outcomes. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 53,139–150.

Jaeggi, S., & Shah, P. (2018). Editorial Special Topic: Neuroscience, Learning, and Educational Practices—Challenges, Promises, and Applications. AERA Open, 4(1), 1–4.