DS0803 - Éducation et apprentissages

Executive training and brain in school-age children. – APEX

Submission summary

Nowadays new technologies offer the opportunity to investigate repetitively and noninvasively - using brain imaging techniques - cognitive learning processes in children. In France, progresses have been made - in part by the laboratory INSERM-CEA UNICOG of S. Dehaene at NeuroSpin - in understanding such processes in reading and arithmetic. Another scientific domain which has received increasing interest from developmental psychologists is executive control – i.e., a set of high-order functions of the brain that allow the activation and inhibition of cognitive strategies in each situation – and the relation between its development and early abilities discovered in infants and young children. These executive functions are implemented within the prefrontal cortex, continue to mature in late adolescence, are under the influence of genetic factors but can be improved by targeted pedagogical interventions. The goal of the APEX project (i.e., executive training and brain in school-age children) is simple and innovating: To investigate in 4th grades children (CM1 in France) the respective effects of two executive trainings of two key processes of the prefrontal cortex – Inhibition (I) and Working Memory (WM) – using the most adapted brain imaging techniques to date (i.e., Magnetic Resonance Imagery: MRI). Traditionally, researchers both in France and abroad, have emphasized theoretically the role of one of such executive functions over the other. The goal here is to compare directly the proportion of variance on a range of neurocognitive variables explained by each of these two executive functions at the same age on the same material. The APEX project aims at first devising computerized executive training tasks for the WM (Go/NoGo) and the I (n-back) training conditions on tactile tablets, a device that can be used in ecological settings both at school and at home. We will then investigate the effects of these two executive training conditions at a cerebral level, both anatomically (aMRI) and functionally (fMRI), in relation with a set of cognitive and academic performance. The data collected will ultimately allow us to propose pedagogical interventions validated experimentally.
In this project, we will recruit three groups of 30 fourth-graders (n = 90) which will be randomly assigned to one of three training conditions: Inhibition vs. Working Memory vs. Active Control. In this micro-longitudinal study, each child will undertake 20 training sessions, 15 mn per day, 5 days a week for a month. We will use a classical procedure in training studies: pre-test (Behavior 1 and MRI 1), executive training at school and/or at home (outside of the scanner), post-tests (Behavior 2-3 and MRI 2-3, the delayed post-test allowing us to evaluate the preservation of the executive training effects). The same task (depending of the process trained - I vs. MT) will be used at all stages of the procedure in order to measure the effect of increasing executive efficiency on performing a task of increasing difficulty. More precisely, we will systematically study the relationships between the differences in the pre- and the post-tests at a neurocognitive level – e.g., increase of BOLD signal in fMRI but also variability of neuroplasticity indexes and early anatomical constraint in aMRI – and the differences in the pre- and the post-tests at a behavioral level – i.e., battery of cognitive and academic tasks performed outside of the scanner such as inhibitory and working memory tasks (to evaluate near transfer), logico-mathematical Piagetian tasks (number, categorization, reasoning) and more academic tasks reflecting systematic difficulties encounter by children at school (e.g., arithmetic word problems).

Project coordination

Olivier Houdé (Laboratoire de Psychologie du Développement et de l'Éducation de l'enfant)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


UPD Laboratoire de Psychologie du Développement et de l'Éducation de l'enfant
CEA Unité d'analyse et de traitement de l'information

Help of the ANR 595,578 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: September 2014 - 48 Months

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