April 21, 2020

(San Francisco, CA – April 21, 2020) — A newly published pilot study indicates that brain training is not only feasible among incarcerated adolescent boys, but that a modest amount of training can drive significant and large gains in standard measures of cognition. The study, using the BrainHQ mobile app from Posit Science, suggests a new approach to rehabilitation of high-risk youth.

While violent adult criminal behavior typically can be traced to antisocial behavior and cognitive deficits during childhood, there has been a dearth of studies of cognitive interventions in adolescents.

This single-arm feasibility trial was conducted at a maximum-security youth prison in Wisconsin, deploying cognitive training on tablets, with a course of nine BrainHQ exercises (targeting speed, accuracy, executive function, and inhibitory control).

The 14 study participants were drawn from a youth prison population in which half had killed or hospitalized a victim. All participants were diagnosed with Conduct Disorder. Most were also  diagnosed with additional disorders, such as ADHD, Mood Disorders, and Substance Use Disorders. Participants, who had to have displayed behavioral stability for admission to the study, tested at a fourth-grade reading level and at an IQ of just under 80.

Participants had access to tablets with the exercises when in their cells. They were asked to complete up to 30 hours of training over an eight-week period, and, on average, completed 8.1 hours, with a range of 1-27 hours. In analyzing results, researchers noted performance improved more with more training.

Researchers found that conducting the assessments and delivering the exercises on tablets was feasible. Moreover, they found significant and large improvements on standard neuropsychological tests in overall cognition and in processing speed, and significant and large gains in three of four computerized assessments, with a trend to significance and moderate gain in the fourth.

“Our brains shape our experience of the world and our place within it,” said Dr. Henry Mahncke, CEO of Posit Science. “People with significant cognitive impairments, coupled with traumatic early life experiences, can see the world and their place in it quite negatively – perceiving ordinary interactions as threats, or abandoning goals when presented with immediate opportunities. Over time, these perceptions can lead to poor life outcomes, including violent crime and incarceration. These new results suggest that brain-plasticity-based training may be able to help improve brains – and maybe lives – as part of comprehensive treatment programs.”

More than 100 published studies of BrainHQ exercises have shown benefits across varied populations, including gains in standard measures of cognition (attention, speed, memory, executive function, social cognition), in standard measures of quality of life (mood, confidence and control, managing stress, health-related quality of life), and in real world activities (gait, balance, driving, everyday cognition, maintaining independence). BrainHQ is now offered, without charge, as a benefit by leading national and 5-star Medicare Advantage plans; by the Department of Defense for all service members; and by hundreds of clinics, libraries, and communities. Consumers can also try BrainHQ for free at https://dev-bhq.pantheonsite.io.