Investigator: Dr. Matthew B. Pontifex (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Research at the intersection of cognitive neuroscience and kinesiology has flourished over the past several decades, with a growing body of evidence demonstrating that physically active behaviors, or the lack thereof, influence the neural systems underlying aspects of cognition. A preponderance of research in this area has focused on how health-oriented behaviors such as physical activity can mitigate age-related cognitive decline, with evidence indicating that chronic participation in aerobic exercise may ameliorate, or protect against, declines in the structure and function of neural tissues associated with adult aging (Colcombe et al., 2004, Cotman & Engesser-Cesar, 2002; Colcombe & Kramer, 2003; Hillman, Erickson, & Kramer, 2008; Hillman et al., 2006; Kramer & Erickson, 2007). Recently, however, a paradigm shift in the field has occurred redirecting focus towards developmental neurocognition in school-aged children. In part, this shift has occurred as a result of physical activity trends indicating that children are growing increasingly sedentary and unfit, coupled with concomitant increases in the prevalence of cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, and type-2 diabetes among industrialized societies (Department of Health and Human Services & Department of Education, 2000). Thus, for the first time in United States history, younger generations may live less healthy and have shorter lives than their parents (Fontaine et al., 2003; Olshansky et al., 2005). Also of concern is the growing trend of de-valuing the importance of physical activity during the school day among educational institutions, through the reduction or elimination of physical activity opportunities in school (Juster, Stafford, & Ono, 2004). The implication of these policies has contributed to the declining physical health that has been observed in American youth. However, far less understood are the implications of such policies and lifestyle choices for the trajectories of cognitive and brain development. Accordingly, this proposal seeks to investigate how aerobic fitness may relate to the core process of learning; with a particular focus on memory encoding, consolidation, and retrieval. To assess the relation between aerobic fitness and memory; in collaboration with Dr. Kim Fenn in the Department of Psychology at Michigan State University, a cross-sectional sample of undergraduate students will be recruited to participate in an experimental protocol lasting a total of three days. On the first day, memory encoding will be probed by assessing participants as they are trained on a novel task. Twenty-four hours later, participants return to the laboratory and will have their memory consolidation and retrieval assessed in response to the same novel task. Finally, on the last day of testing, participants will have their cardiorespiratory fitness assessed. The significance of this proposal lies in demonstrating the efficacy of chronic physical activity participation for cognitive health and function. The potential knowledge gained from such an investigation may inform administrators and other policy makers about the importance of exercise for optimal scholastic performance, and impact educational practices aimed at improving cognitive health and learning.
Undergraduate research assistants will be involved in all phases of this research project; ranging from administering neuropsychological assessments, cognitive test batteries, and cardiorespiratory fitness tests under the direct supervision of Dr. Matthew B. Pontifex, Ph.D. These students will also have the opportunity to participate in the processing, reduction, and analysis of these data in preparation for the presentation and publication of the results of this investigation.
Students who provide substantial contribution to the project beyond that of data collection will also have the opportunity to be authored on publications arising out of the project. Students will also have the opportunity to present the findings of their research in local forums such as the MSU University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum (UURAF) as well as national forums such as the Midwest American College of Sports Medicine meeting. A further goal of this project is to provide pilot data in support of a larger NIH grant aimed as investigating these relationships in school aged children, thus undergraduate assistants will also have the opportunity to engage in further research projects and potentially step into the role of a graduate research assistant in the laboratory.
This project allows for a substantial body of data to be collected, rendering opportunities for multiple independent presentations/publications aimed within the primary focus of the relation between fitness and memory. These data may also allow for further data mining to assess how memory might also relate to components of body composition.