Experience-Dependent Recovery of Cognitive Deficits in Alcoholics: Extended Transfer of Training

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transfer of training, neuropsychological deficits & time vs experience dependent recovery, alcoholic patients, implications for alcoholism treatment

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Some neuropsychological deficits recover spontaneously after alcoholics cease drinking, probably because of biological (time-dependent) processes, whereas recent studies have shown that other, more persistent deficits recover only after specific remediation (experience dependent). Recovery in these latter studies has, however, been restricted to a single transfer task highly similar to the training task. The critical demonstration that remediation induces recovery of central information-processing capacity requires transfer of training to tasks varying in content and format from the training task. To this end, two alcoholic groups (N = 36) were given four practice sessions with a visuospatial training task, beginning at different time lags postdrinking, and then tested on a battery of transfer tasks. Another alcoholic group (N = 18) and a matched nonalcoholic group (N = 16) were tested once on the transfer battery to provide comparison points. This design demonstrated the lack of time-dependent recovery on these tasks over 30 days as well as the presence of experience-dependent recovery on the training task. Most important, wide-ranging transfer was observed to all five visuospatial transfer tasks, indicating enhanced information processing. Recovery was modality specific, however, in that transfer to the tactual-spatial task was not dramatic. This methodology may offer a means of enhancing alcoholism treatment.

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Journal of Abnormal Psychology, v. 96, issue 4, p. 345-353.