Does inhibitory control training transfer?: behavioral and neural effects on an untrained emotion regulation task

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Inhibitory control (IC) is a critical neurocognitive skill for successfully navigating challenges across domains. Several studies have attempted to use training to improve neurocognitive skills such as IC, but few have found that training generalizes to performance on non-trained tasks. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate the effect of IC training on a related but untrained emotion regulation (ER) task with the goal of clarifying how training alters brain function and why its effects typically do not transfer across tasks. We suggest hypotheses for training-related changes in activation relevant to transfer effects: the strength model and several plausible alternatives (shifting priorities, stimulus-response automaticity, scaffolding). Sixty participants completed three weeks of IC training and underwent fMRI scanning before and after. The training produced pre- to post-training changes in neural activation during the ER task in the absence of behavioral changes. Specifically, individuals in the training group demonstrated reduced activation during ER in the left inferior frontal gyrus and supramarginal gyrus, key regions in the IC neural network. This result is less consistent with the strength model and more consistent with a motivational account. Implications for future work aiming to further pinpoint mechanisms of training transfer are discussed.

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