You often hear it in sports: The score does not tell the whole story. What people usually mean by this is that the final result is not indicative of how the game was played. This can be true in science as well, when the raw results of a test do not reveal the underlying issues.
A study led by Julie Dumas, Ph.D., of the University of the Vermont looked at postmenopausal women, some who complained about memory problems and some who didn’t, and found no difference in the two groups’ performance on a memory test. However, the “complainers” activated more brain regions while performing the test. In other words, the women with cognitive complaints had to work harder than the non-complainers in order to do as well on the test.
“We believe our data show that women with cognitive complaints have brain that function like an older group of people,” Dumas said. When asked if the negative mindset—i.e. thinking you have a bad memory—could affect the brain imaging results, Dumas said no.
Tudor Puiu of Wayne State University in Michigan found similar results when he conducted his memory test on a much different group of participants. Puiu studied children (ages 7-14) with ADHD and found that a particular brain region (the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex) associated with controlling other parts of the brain worked harder in children with ADHD than children without it. Previous studies had shown the dorsal ACC to be structurally different in ADHD children.
“We specifically found that this area must work harder to influence other brain regions during brief memory tasks,” Puiu said. “This need for greater control, even for simple tasks, suggests that the ADHD brain is inefficiently organized, and that these inefficiencies in turn may make it more difficult for affected children to perform in school.”
Both studies could lead to therapies for those affected. Said Dumas of her study: “This finding is important because other research involving older groups of participants has suggested that the presence of cognitive complaints may be a risk factor for developing dementia. If we can identify these people at a younger age, perhaps Alzheimer’s disease prevention measures will be more effective.”
Puiu believes it may be possible to intervene early in the development of children with ADHD and improve efficiency in the dorsal ACC.