Newly published research on cognitive remediation’s impact on those with mood disorders calls for public health officials to consider assessing and treating cognitive deficits. Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience and Behavior Matthew Kurtz said offering those people with mood disorders and cognitive deficits some type of behavioral treatment may help mitigate their difficulties.
Kurtz, Zoey Goldberg ’21, and Brina Kuslak ’21 published “A meta-analytic investigation of cognitive remediation for mood disorders: Efficacy and the role of study quality, sample and treatment factors” in the June edition of the Journal of Affective Disorders.
By meta-analyzing 22 unique, controlled studies with nearly 1,000 participants with an average age of just over 41 years old , they found that cognitive remediation—using scientific techniques designed to teach learning and thinking skills and improve social function—produced “significant small-to-moderate size effects in attention, verbal learning and memory, working memory and executive function,” the study said.
It also had a small to moderate effect on depressive symptoms. The study also found that cognitive remediation programs that individualize their practice had a larger impact on executive functioning (problem-solving skills). In addition, those with lower initial IQs showed greater improvements in their working memory, according to the study, suggesting potential benefit across a diverse array of clients.
“We found that cognitive remediation reliably improved a variety of domains of cognition in mood disorders and these effects remained robust regardless of sample age, education, gender distribution, diagnostic distribution, or study quality,” the study said.
Their research calls for the improvement of cognitive remediation programs with “a greater focus on everyday life skills.” It also suggests that future research should aim to identify “key active ingredients of cognitive remediation” for mood disorders and broaden the areas where cognitive remediation could benefit people.
The research project came about thanks to two strangers with a shared interest in the work. After four years of effort, the two students published the fruits of their labor.
Goldberg and Kuslak met in Kurtz’ research methods class during their second year at Wesleyan and were brought together by the idea of studying cognitive remediation’s impact on other disorders than Schizophrenia, one of Kurtz’s areas of interest. They kept meeting to compare analysis and writing through their graduations and first year after graduation. Through all that time they built a strong personal relationship.
“I think it prepared me very well for going into working environments as well, of just how to form these connections with people on your team in order to reach a common goal,” Kuslak said of working with Goldberg.
Kuslak said the ability to access research helped her tremendously for her next steps—she now works as a clinical research assistant for the Warriors Research Institute in Waco, Texas. This project gave her a window into how the process works, especially with data collection and framing information for a broader audience.
Goldberg is also in a similar situation, albeit across the country, working as a research assistant for a clinical trial on talk therapy for trauma at Boston Medical Center. She said her Wesleyan research experience pushed her to pursue work opportunities at places where they care about the next generation and are focused on a specific goal.
“We ended up along the same path because Professor Kurtz really instilled this interest in us, of doing research, working with people who really need help, and helping to increase accessibility to treatment,” Goldberg said.