A Deep Dive into Cognitive Abilities and Training Outcomes

the effects of cognitive training on individuals with varied baseline abilities.

Cognitive abilities, the intellectual processes that shape our thoughts, attention, memory, and problem-solving skills, have been the focal point of several research studies aiming to enhance human performance. Over the years, there’s been a surge in training programs aimed at honing these skills. However, the primary question remains: Does cognitive training genuinely benefit everyone, or does its efficacy vary based on an individual’s innate abilities? A recent study by Traut HJ, Guild RM, and Munakata Y takes a magnifying glass to this question, providing some insightful findings.

Read more: A Deep Dive into Cognitive Abilities and Training Outcomes

The Ambiguity of Cognitive Training Benefits

While there’s a rising trend of people opting for cognitive training across their lifespan, evidence suggests that training cognitive skills is not universally beneficial. The results are, in fact, rather inconsistent. This inconsistency could be attributed to the various cognitive levels individuals possess when starting training.

There’s a running debate on the true beneficiaries of cognitive training. Some evidence suggests that individuals with weaker cognitive abilities benefit the most, witnessing a sort of ‘compensation’ for their limitations. On the other hand, another school of thought believes that those already high on the cognitive spectrum benefit more, further magnifying their inherent abilities.

The underlying cause of this disparity might depend on two significant factors:

  1. The specific cognitive domain being targeted, such as executive function or episodic memory.
  2. The type of training approach being utilized, whether strategy-based or process-based.

The Meta-Analysis by Traut HJ, Guild RM, and Munakata Y

To get a clearer picture, the trio embarked on a systematic meta-analysis, studying the correlation between an individual’s baseline cognitive ability and the gains they achieved post-training.

The results were eye-opening. The evidence suggests that training cognitive skills is more beneficial for those with a lower initial ability in the targeted cognitive domain. This phenomenon, known as the ‘compensatory effect,’ suggests a negative correlation between an individual’s starting ability and the cognitive gains they experience from training.

However, an intriguing aspect of this study was the lack of qualifying papers that met the researchers’ criteria, specifically when analyzing the influence of cognitive domain and training approach on the outcome. This scarcity of comprehensive research underscores the need for more in-depth studies in the area.

Implications and Future Directions

The findings from Traut HJ, Guild RM, and Munakata Y’s study have some significant implications. For one, it offers a fresh perspective on the debate surrounding cognitive training’s beneficiaries. If individuals with lower cognitive skills genuinely benefit more, then cognitive training programs could be strategically implemented in educational and professional environments, catering to those who need them the most.

However, the lack of adequate research on the influence of cognitive domains and training approaches highlights a gap in the current body of knowledge. It becomes crucial for future studies to delve deeper into these areas, ensuring that cognitive training is tailored in a way that maximizes benefits for all.

Moreover, for cognitive training to be truly effective and comprehensive, it’s essential to understand the ‘how’ and ‘for whom.’ Is it more beneficial for a specific age group? Does training duration matter? Does the type of cognitive task being trained play a pivotal role in outcomes? These are questions future research needs to answer.


Cognitive training, in essence, holds significant promise. However, as evidence suggests that training cognitive skills is inconsistent in its benefits, it becomes vital to focus on personalized training methods tailored to an individual’s needs. The study by Traut HJ, Guild RM, and Munakata Y sets a foundation for further exploration in this domain, paving the way for more effective and efficient cognitive training methods in the future.


Traut HJ, Guild RM and Munakata Y (2021) Why Does Cognitive Training Yield Inconsistent Benefits? A Meta-Analysis of Individual Differences in Baseline Cognitive Abilities and Training Outcomes. Front. Psychol. 12:662139. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.662139

Scroll to Top