Jun 212012

Polar bear

National Mental Wealth Study Delivers Surprise 

National Mental Wealth refers to the cumulative cognitive capacity and mental health status of a country – a concept under threat from demographic ageing and increasing prevalence of mental illness. In this unique trial, RNG tested whether so-called Brain Training delivered directly to employees via their work computers could help boost mental function. Against all expectations we found that our control condition – watching National Geographic videos – led to a significant improvement in ratings of wellbeing.

Like the photo? By Christopher Drake for National Geographic: http://www.theblogismine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/National-Geographic-50th-Week-in-Breathtaking-Photos-03.jpg





Mental Wealth = our Mental (Psychological) Well Being + our Mental Capital

National Mental Wealth is the sum of mental wealth of each individual Australian.

As our society continues to age so too does our collective cognitive capacity. Thirty percent of Australians are already 60 years or older and the incidence of Alzheimer’s Dementia continues to rise. We are also seeing an increasing incidence of mental health conditions in all age groups. Both of these social trends need attention to ensure that individuals can achieve and maintain a good quality of life. The National Mental Wealth project aimed to test whether computerized cognitive training (CCT) led to real-world psychological and workplace outcomes in healthy, working-age individuals, and so boost Australia’s National Mental Wealth.

Our intervention was a form of computerized cognitive training (CCT). This field of research has revolutionized our approach to cognitive decline by targeting the prevention and delay of brain related disease.  CCT has assisted children and the aged with diagnosed cognitive deficits.  However, the jury is still out in terms of its efficacy for cognitively healthy adults.  This research directly addressed this.  Moreover, this trial was unique in its implementation in an Australian workplace.

We were interested in the effect of CCT on not only  cognitive abilities, but also to psychological wellbeing and workplace productivity.  We ensured that any effects could be isolated by having two groups of workers complete the same amount of “training”: A) our CCT program (see example below) which involved  completing a number of challenging tasks within a certain time limit, or B) our  Control condition which involved passive viewing of National Geographic videos of the natural world (example further below).

The training program

The training program

                                                Example of  control condition – watching National Geographic videos


So what did we find?  We found no compelling evidence that CCT leads to increased cognitive ability or productivity benefits for office workers in comparison to our control condition.  However, quite unexpectedly, we found that watching National Geographic videos led to a significant improvement in workers’ psychological wellbeing, and furthermore, that these benefits lasted for 6 months after training finished (see figure below). These results were consistent with recent studies linking short respite breaks during the workday with reduced workplace stress and increased productivity.



By rigorously testing CCT we demonstrated its limited applicability to office workers, and at the same time, made a serendipitous discovery about the impact of short workday breaks on psychological health.   Further studies are recommended that focus on improving worker’s mental well being as a means of boosting productivity and our national mental wealth.

Trial Registration No: ACTRN12610000604000.



Video from National Geographic (Polar bear mom and cubs): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZjFVb0jdbc&list=PL355D512277EFFA06

Original cover photo from National Geographic: http://www.theblogismine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/National-Geographic-50th-Week-in-Breathtaking-Photos-03.jpg