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Human Brain Mapping





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Improvements in behavior are known to be accompanied by both structural and functional changes in the brain. However, whether those changes lead to more general improvements, beyond the behavior being trained, remains a contentious issue. We investigated whether training on one of two cognitive tasks would lead to either near transfer (that is, improvements on a quantifiably similar task) or far transfer (that is, improvements on a quantifiably different task), and furthermore, if such changes did occur, what the underlying neural mechanisms might be. Healthy adults (n = 16, 15 females) trained on either a verbal inhibitory control task or a visuospatial working memory task for 4 weeks, over the course of which they received five diffusion tensor imaging scans. Two additional tasks served as measures of near and far transfer. Behaviorally, participants improved on the task that they trained on, but did not improve on cognitively similar tests (near transfer), nor cognitively dissimilar tests (far transfer). Extensive changes to white matter microstructure were observed, with verbal inhibitory control training leading to changes in a left-lateralized network of frontotemporal and occipitofrontal tracts, and visuospatial working memory training leading to changes in right-lateralized frontoparietal tracts. Very little overlap was observed in changes between the two training groups. On the basis of these results, we suggest that near and far transfer were not observed because the changes in white matter tracts associated with training on each task are almost entirely nonoverlapping with, and therefore afford no advantages for, the untrained tasks.