Study: Brain imaging can help predict future cognitive abilities in children

Brain imaging can be used to predict future cognitive abilities, which means that developmental brain disorders can be detected in childhood, making it possible to start supporting such children at an earlier age, according to a study published Jan. 29 in the Journal of Neuroscience.

According to the researchers, human working memory capacity is a strong predictor of academic performance, particularly when it comes to reading and mathematics. The ability to predict working memory development is important to identify children who are at risk.

The study involved 62 healthy children and adolescents between the ages of 6 and 20 years old. Upon enrollment in the study, the participants underwent a battery of cognitive tests, which included measures of working memory and MRI scans performed during cognitive tasks.

The participants completed the same tests and tasks two years later, with the original MRI and cognitive tests being used to predict working memory capacity at the time of the follow up testing.

The researchers found that MRI could be used to a certain degree to predict the speed of cognitive development, which wasn't possible with the battery of cognitive tests. They saw that while current working memory capacity correlated with frontoparietal cortical activity, future capacity could be inferred from structure and activity in the basal ganglia and thalamus.

"Until now neuroimaging has just given us pictures of behavior that we already new about," Klingberg told Agence France-Presse. "Now this is telling us we can use the MR scanner also for something novel."

The researchers, according to an announcement, believe their brain imaging technique should be tested to evaluate its clinical potential.

To learn more:
- see the study in the Journal of Neuroscience
- check out the announcement from the Karolinska Institutet

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