Testing Possible A.D.H.D. Learning Aids ; 2 Studies Examine How to Outfox Disabilities with Cognitive Science

By Carey, Benedict | International New York Times, February 17, 2016 | Go to article overview

Testing Possible A.D.H.D. Learning Aids ; 2 Studies Examine How to Outfox Disabilities with Cognitive Science


Carey, Benedict, International New York Times


Two studies looking at the effectiveness of self-testing on a topic instead of restudying it provided mixed results.

Over the past few decades, cognitive scientists have found that small alterations in how people study can accelerate and deepen learning, improving retention and comprehension in a range of subjects, including math, science and foreign languages.

The findings come almost entirely from controlled laboratory experiments of individual students, but they are reliable enough that software developers, government-backed researchers and other innovators are racing to bring them to classrooms, boardrooms, academies -- every real-world constituency, it seems, except one that could benefit most: people with learning disabilities.

Now, two new studies explore the effectiveness of one common cognitive science technique -- the so-called testing effect -- for people with attention-deficit problems, one of the most commonly diagnosed learning disability.

The results were mixed. They hint at the promise of outfoxing learning deficits with cognitive science, experts said, but they also point to the difficulties involved.

The learning techniques developed by cognitive psychologists seem, in some respects, an easy fit for people with attention deficits: breaking up study time into chunks; mixing related material in a session; varying study environments. Each can produce improvements in retention or comprehension, and taken together capture the more scattered spirit of those with an A.D.H.D. diagnosis, especially children.

The testing effect has proved especially reliable for other students, and it is a natural first choice to measure the potential application to A.D.H.D. The principle is straightforward: Once a student is familiar with a topic, testing himself on it deepens the recall of the material more efficiently than restudying.

In one of the new studies, led by Laura Knouse of the University of Richmond, 100 college students -- 25 of them with A.D.H.D. -- tried to memorize two sets of 48 words. The students studied the word lists in two sessions, watching as the words appeared for a few seconds on a computer screen. In follow-up sessions, they restudied one list and took a free-recall test on the other list. …

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