Cognitive Control Apps
EQPro and DNB Pro are brain training apps for desktop and mobile that train attention and cognitive control for neuroplasticity change that helps with anxiety, depression and burnout.
As reviewed in this article, the brain’s cognitive control system plays a critical role in promoting and maintaining mental health. This system implements feedback control to regulate symptoms as they arise (e.g., excessive anxiety reduced via regulation of amygdala). It helps reduce the brain’s emotional reactivity when this is dysfunctional.
This kind of ‘brain training’ intervention – that results in neuroplasticity change – is arguably the best intervention available for reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression and building long-term mental resilience (review). Based on clinical trials, it is considerably better than anti-depressant medication, and works effectively in conjunction with CBT approaches.
“Since I am diagnosed with bipolar type -1 and ADHD, my anxiety and stress levels are very high at times. Currently, I am in university where the workload and social anxiety has caused me great anxiety in the classrooms. Due to this, I have played many brain training games and you are the only brain training game I have stuck with.” Justin G.
“My resilience has benefitted immensely; this semester I followed 45 ECTS worth of courses and had emotional leftovers to support my friends and family:)” Stefan A
How It Works: The Science
The EQPro and DNB Pro apps combine both desktop/laptop and mobile (iOS and Android) apps, and implements the emotional dual n-back developed and tested by cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Susanne Schweizer and colleagues at the University of Cambridge.
The emotional dual n-back is attention regulation training exercise. The It modifies the standard dual n-back brain training game, by using emotional content in place of abstract shapes and neutral letter/word sounds. The emotional content can be either visual (e.g. facial expressions) or verbal (e.g. emotionally charged words).
The standard dual n-back game is the most well-studied evidence-based brain training game with valid IQ increasing benefits (review). Training with the emotional dual n-back has the same IQ increasing benefits as standard dual n-back training but in addition it improves emotion regulation – what is known as “affective (e.g. emotion-based) cognitive control”.
Schweizer et al (2011) showed training based gains in IQ for both standard and emotional dual n-back training over 20 days, but also additional emotion regulation benefits for emotional DNB training:
“Translating this into everyday life, such training may improve participants’ decision making in situations that require… emotional material. Moreover, patients with emotional disorders that are characterized by difficulties in exerting cognitive control in order to selectively engage and disengage from affective information may benefit from such training (e.g. depression, anxiety disorders).”
Dr Motter and his colleagues at Queens College/University of Columbia investigating the effectiveness of cognitive control brain training for depression in their paper Computerized cognitive training and functional recovery in major depressive disorder: A meta-analysis (Jan 2016).
They found clear evidence for:
- Improvement in Depressive Symptoms
- Improved Global Functioning (including measures of IQ)
- Improved Working Memory and Attention
A recently published study by Dr Sari and colleagues looked at the effects of just three weeks of cognitive control training on attention control in high anxiety individuals.
They found that:
- Training resulted in better attention control.
- There was better inhibition of emotionally charged distractions.
- These training-related gains were related to lower levels of trait anxiety after the brain training.
As with the depression studies, training effects were substantial:
“Our results showed that …training related gains were associated with lower levels of trait anxiety at post (vs pre) intervention. Our results demonstrate that adaptive working memory training in anxiety can have beneficial effects on attentional control and cognitive performance that may protect against emotional vulnerability in individuals at risk of developing clinical anxiety.”
Mental Health Pre and Post-Training Tests
The attention control brain training apps come with the Mindware Lab Test Battery. This consists of scientifically valid, standardized set of short tests to assess your level of anxiety, depression, burnout and resilience – both before and after your intervention program. This can help you keep track of your progress with objective measures of your psychological well-being.
This test battery also offers other short tests for general cognitive abilities (such as decision-making, emotional intelligence, memory) you may want to measure.