Computerized Cognitive Training Restores Neural Activity in Schizophrenia

A new study published in the journal Neuron demonstrates that a specific type of computerized cognitive training can lead to significant neural and behavioral improvements in individuals with schizophrenia. According to the authors, ‘schizophrenia patients struggle with ‘reality monitoring. Although there are drugs that reduce the clinical symptoms of schizophrenia, current medications do not improve cognitive deficits.’ In addition, conventional psychotherapy has not proven to be successful in these patients, and there is a pressing need for new therapeutic strategies.

The researchers took a unique approach to enhancing behavior and brain activation in individuals with schizophrenia. They predicted that in order to improve complex cognitive functions in neuropsychiatric illness, lower-level perceptual processes, as well as higher-order working memory and social cognitive impairments must initially be targeted.

Patients with schizophrenia patients who received 80 hours of computerized training (over 16 weeks) exhibited improvements in their ability to perform complex reality-monitoring tasks, which were associated with increased activation of the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). The mPFC is a critical brain region that supports successful reality-monitoring processes. The researchers state that “we found that the level of mPFC activation was also linked with better social functioning six months after training. In contrast, patients in a control group who played computer games for 80 hours did not show any improvements, demonstrating that the behavioral and neural improvements were specific to the computerized training patient group.”

Volume 73, Issue 4, 23 February 2012, Pages 842–853