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Mind Games

USC College psychology graduate student John Prindle investigates memory training’s impact on everyday functioning in older adults.

Mind Games

These days older adults are turning to a variety of methods to keep their brains active and maintain their cognitive abilities: Crossword puzzles. Sudoku. Nintendo has even created “Brain Age,” a video game billed to give the mind “the work out it needs.”

USC College’s John Prindle wondered whether in addition to improving memory, such exercises also bolster one’s ability to perform everyday activities such as balancing a checkbook or following a recipe.

Prindle’s psychology master’s thesis examines the randomized clinical trial data provided by a large-scale federal study, Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE). Funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the study involved collecting data from adults ages 65 to 94, from six locations nationwide. The roughly 2,800 participants made up three experimental groups targeting three areas of cognition — memory, reasoning and speed of processing. There was one control group. ACTIVE researchers hoped to prove that such cognitive training translates into everyday gains.

But Prindle, a third-year doctoral student, found that was not the case. Relying on quantitative methods in psychology, he determined that while the training helped subjects’ memory abilities as compared to the control, there was no difference between how the two groups performed in everyday tasks.

“So in that way the treatment failed to do what the designers of the study hypothesized,” Prindle said. “The goal of the study was to show that focused memory training would improve everyday abilities and the results from my work show there was no transfer.”

“It remains to be seen whether these computer games and everything just help you be better at the task you are performing or if it helps you out overall.”

Can any training improve memory in everyday tasks? Prindle suggests other forms of memory training, or some other cognitive ability (reasoning or speed of processing), should be explored if one wants to improve everyday abilities through a cognitive intervention.

John McArdle, professor of psychology and gerontology in the College and Prindle’s adviser, emphasized the significance of Prindle’s findings.

“Since so many elderly are impacted by memory failures, and will do most anything to prevent these declines, John’s results lead to practical suggestions for improvements in this important applied area,” McArdle said.

Prindle and McArdle also co-wrote a paper published in the December issue of Psychology and Aging that examines reasoning, one of the three experimental groups from the ACTIVE dataset.

“John is a great student colleague,” McArdle said. “My research team would not be doing such good work at this advanced level without his extensive knowledge and hard work.”


Prindle presented his findings as part of a poster event for third-year doctoral students sponsored by the Department of Psychology on Dec. 10. Students either presented aspects of their master’s thesis projects or other projects they presented at professional meetings. Participants included:

Rachel Beattie: Testing the P-center Hypothesis in Reading Disabled Children with and without Language Impairments

Charisse Corsbie-Massay: The Psychological Effect of Media Exclusion: Or, Where are All the People of Color on Friends?

Christopher Courtney: Affective Computer-Generated Stimulus Exposure: Psychophysiological Support for Increased Elicitation of Negative Emotions in High and Low Fear Subjects

Marissa Ericson: Heritability of Schizotypal Traits During Adolescence

Kean Hsu: Memory, Gender and Rumination in Depression: Recall of Simulated Situations with Articulated Thoughts and the Rivermead Behavioral Memory Test

Jiye Kim: When Do Objects Become Scenes?

Lauren Ng: The Link Between the Expression of Negative Emotion and Future Well-Being: The Role of Disclosure Modality in an East Asian American Population

David Pan: Culture Adapted One-Session Treatment for Specific Phobias with Asian Americans

John Prindle: Latent Change Score Analysis of the Impacts of Memory Training in the Elderly from a Randomized Clinical Trial

Jared Reser: Psychological Correlates of Certainty Strength: Measuring the Relative Influence of Evidence, Opinion of Personal Contacts and Importance to Self-Identity

Nicole Sintov: Subtypes of Alcohol Dependence Based on Co-morbid Psychopathology

Lauren Spies: Concordance in Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis and Sympatho-Adreno-Medullary System Activity Between Parents and Children Surrounding a Family Conflict

Hao Wang: Word Categorization Using Frequent Frames: The Structural Evidence

Pan Wang: Psychopathy and Heart Rate Response to Aversive Stimulus in Children

Alexandra Ycaza: Reacquisition of a Conditioned Taste Avoidance Using the Same CS and US

Kelly Young-Wolff: Drinking Alcohol to Improve Mood Partially Mediates the Relation Between Major Depression and Alcohol Dependence

Yan Zhou: A Biometric Latent Curve Analysis of Visual Memory Development Using Data from the Colorado Adoption Project