Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Effects of a cognitive training on spatial learning and associated functional brain activations

Kirsten Hötting1*, Kathrin Holzschneider1, Anna Stenzel1, Thomas Wolbers2 and Brigitte Röder1

Author Affiliations

1 Biological Psychology and Neuropsychology, University of Hamburg, Von-Melle-Park 11, 20146 Hamburg, Germany

2 German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Leipziger Str. 44, 39120 Magdeburg, Germany

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BMC Neuroscience 2013, 14:73  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-14-73

Published: 20 July 2013



Both cognitive and physical exercise have been discussed as promising interventions for healthy cognitive aging. The present study assessed the effects of cognitive training (spatial vs. perceptual training) and physical training (endurance training vs. non-endurance training) on spatial learning and associated brain activation in 33 adults (40–55 years). Spatial learning was assessed with a virtual maze task, and at the same time neural correlates were measured with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).


Only the spatial training improved performance in the maze task. These behavioral gains were accompanied by a decrease in frontal and temporal lobe activity. At posttest, participants of the spatial training group showed lower activity than participants of the perceptual training group in a network of brain regions associated with spatial learning, including the hippocampus and parahippocampal gyrus. No significant differences were observed between the two physical intervention groups.


Functional changes in neural systems associated with spatial navigation can be induced by cognitive interventions and seem to be stronger than effects of physical exercise in middle-aged adults.

Exercise; Physical activity; Cognitive training; Cognition; Spatial memory; fMRI; Humans; Prevention