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Roger W. Strong, George A. Alvarez; Training enhances attentional expertise, but not attentional capacity: Evidence from content-specific training benefits. Journal of Vision 2017;17(4):4. doi: 10.1167/17.4.4.
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Cognitive training has become a billion-dollar industry with the promise that exercising a cognitive faculty (e.g., attention) on simple “brain games” will lead to improvements on any task relying on the same faculty. Although this logic seems sound, it assumes performance improves on training tasks because attention's capacity has been enhanced. Alternatively, training may result in attentional expertise—an enhancement of the ability to deploy attention to particular content—such that improvement on training tasks is specific to the features of the training context. The present study supported this attentional expertise hypothesis, showing that training benefits did not generalize fully from a trained attentional tracking task to untrained tracking tasks requiring a common attentional capacity, but differing in seemingly superficial features (i.e., retinotopic location and or motion type). This specificity suggests that attentional training benefits are linked to enhanced coordination between attentional processes and content-specific perceptual representations. Thus, these results indicate that shared attentional capacity between tasks is insufficient for producing generalized training benefits, and predict that generalization requires attentional expertise for content present in both training and outcome tasks.
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