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Brain Scans May Predict Future Academic Performance

Update Date: Jan 28, 2014 06:08 PM EST

Brain scans could predict children's future academic success, a new study suggests.

Researchers have linked structural and functional changes in the brain to children's working memory capacity, or the ability to keep information for a short period of time. Previous studies reveal that working memory capacity significantly predicts future achievements in math and reading.

The latest study involved 62 children and adolescents between the ages of 6 and 20 years. Participants completed working memory and reasoning tests and underwent multiple MRI scans to assess brain structure and changes in brain activity as they performed a working memory task.  Researchers repeated the experiment two years later.

The findings revealed that MRI scans can be used to predict children's working memory performance two years later, a prediction that was not possible using the cognitive tests. However, cognitive tests were unable to make the same prediction, according to researchers.

While brain activity in the frontal cortex correlated with children's working memory, researchers found that activity in the basal ganglia and thalamus predicted how well children scored on the working memory tests two years later

"Our results suggest that future cognitive development can be predicted from anatomical and functional information offered by MRI above and beyond that currently achieved by cognitive tests," lead researcher Henrik Ullman of the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden said in a statement. "This has wide implications for understanding the neural mechanisms of cognitive development."

The findings are published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

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