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C of I professor wins NSF grant to study ‘brain training’

A College of Idaho psychology professor and her students will use a newly awarded National Science Foundation grant to examine the effectiveness of the growing number of programs that claim to improve memory and attention. The NSF awarded Dr. Meredith Minear a $216,454 grant – paid out over 36 months – to fund her project “Training and Transfer of Executive Processes,” which examines the human brain’s ability to train.

“I’m very excited about this opportunity for our students,” Minear said. “You can read a textbook all you want, but I feel students learn more by doing. It’s important for a small liberal arts school to offer research opportunities, and we want our students to have that so they can be competitive for jobs and graduate school.”

Approximately ten C of I students are involved in the project, which examines websites and software packages that offer “brain training” courses claiming to improve memory and attention. Minear’s team will investigate training related improvements in the brain’s executive functions and the extent to which such training can improve someone’s performance on tasks such as reasoning, problem solving and reading comprehension. In a series of training studies, participants will be measured on a battery of cognitive tasks before and after four weeks of training.  The resulting data will identify the most effective training program and whether any programs transfer effectively to real world tasks.   

The team hopes to make significant contributions not only to the theoretical understanding of executive brain functions, but also the extent to which college-aged adults can benefit from cognitive training programs. The project will involve students both as collaborators and participants. Student researchers will have opportunities to engage in data collection, analysis, presentation at conferences and authorship on peer-reviewed journal articles.

“I’m glad I have the chance to experience real research and be a part of this project,” said Claudia Brandt, a senior psychology major at C of I. “It takes more work and brainpower than a typical student project, but it’s fun to contribute ideas, and I’m excited to see what the data look like when we’re done.”

Minear is the second C of I professor to secure a major grant from the NSF this summer. Dr. Don Mansfield (biology) was awarded $365,815 in June for a collaborative botany project he is working on with a team of professors from Boise State University.

Founded in 1891, The College of Idaho is the state’s oldest private liberal arts college. It has a century-old tradition of educating some of the most accomplished graduates in Idaho, including six Rhodes Scholars, three Marshall Scholars, and another ten Truman and Goldwater Scholars. The College is located on a beautiful campus in Caldwell, Idaho. Its distinctive PEAK curriculum challenges students to attain competencies in the four knowledge peaks of the humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field, enabling them to graduate with an academic major and three minors in four years. For more information on The College of Idaho, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.