The Science of IM

Cognitive focus plays a crucial role in success or failure in school, work, and almost all aspects human performance. Yet, few of us receive formal training on how to improve our focus (control our attention). Contemporary brain research, which is described in this working paper, and which is briefly summarized below, has shed light on the nature of cognitive focus and has provided technology to train and maintain a “focused brain.”

The human mind has a limited capacity to engage in laser-beam like focus or controlled attention—up to 20 to 30 minute at maximum. Contemporary brain research describes focus or controlled attention as the ability to direct one’s attentional spotlight on only task relevant information in one’s mental workspace (working memory). This requires constant monitoring and timely feedback to the attentional control center regarding the status of one’s “locked on” focus status. When focused, cognitive control mechanisms are constantly monitoring performance and immediately detect and deflect outside distractions and self-generated mind wandering. Focus training can result in the “quieting of the busy mind.”

McGrew (2012) has presented a three-level explanatory model of the Interactive Metronome (IM) effect which is presented in Figure 1. Briefly, IM technology is believed to improve the resolution and efficiency of an individual’s internal brain clock(s) and temporal processing. In turn, this increased neural efficiency, which is hypothesized to result in more efficient brain connectivity, communication, and synchronization via increased integrity of the brains white matter tract communication system, produces more efficient communication between critical brain networks. In particular, research and theory suggests that IM technology increases the efficacy of the parietal-frontal brain network, the brain network most associated with general intellectual functioning, working memory, controlled attention and executive functions.

IM technology incrementally teaches individuals to focus exclusively on a target tone and deploy cognitive tools to deflect distractions, most likely through improvements in the efficiency of communication within the parietal-frontal brain regions. It is hypothesized that IM technology can train individuals to enhance their ability to invoke on-demand- focus or controlled attention. The IM real-time millisecond feedback requires the user to develop the ability to block out external distractions and mind wandering—and thus, stay focused. Over time, and with sustained motivated practice, it is possible to train the brain to engage in increased on-demand focus. Although the most observable outcome of IM training may be better focus or controlled attention (and thus working memory and cognitive performance), it is suggested that this outcome is likely due to IM producing underlying changes to complex and critical brain and neurocognitive mechanisms. McGrew’s (2012) three-level explanatory IM model is currently the best reason-, logic-, and theoretical-based set of hypotheses to explain the IM effect.

The primary conclusions from the detailed scientific explanation of the IM are:

  • The diversity of domains positively impacted by IM technology is due to IM improving the function of crucial brain-based domain-general neurocognitive mechanisms.
  • The precise, real-time IM millisecond feedback impacts the temporal processing resolution of the internal brain clock, which in turn improves neural efficiency—and thus, more efficient temporal and information processing in the brain.
  • The IM effect appears to be the result of increased efficiency and synchronization of communication between the primary brain structures that comprise the functional brain networks involved in performing both the cognitive and motor demands of IM training.
  • IM technology may be improving brain network communication, especially within the major brain networks at the core of the P-FIT (parietal-fontal integration) model of general intelligence.
  • IM technology may be improving the efficiency of the parietal-frontal brain network which is critical to general intellectual functioning, working memory, controlled attention, and overall cognitive efficiency.
  • One of the most important IM training outcomes (but not the only outcome) is improved focus via increased efficiency of the attentional control system (ACS) that maintains goal related information active in working memory in the presence of internal (mind wandering) and external distractions. Improvement in efficiency of executive functions and working memory results in more efficient complex cognitive processing and learning.