A theoretical framework for the study of adult cognitive plasticity.
Does plasticity contribute to adult cognitive development, and if so, in what ways? The vague and overused concept of plasticity makes these controversial questions difficult to answer. In this article, we refine the notion of adult cognitive plasticity and sharpen its conceptual distinctiveness. According to our framework, adult cognitive plasticity is driven by a prolonged mismatch between functional organismic supplies and environmental demands and denotes the brain's capacity for anatomically implementing reactive changes in behavioral flexibility (i.e., the possible range of performance and function). We distinguish between 2 interconnected but distinct cognitive outcomes of adult cognitive plasticity: alterations in processing efficiency and alterations in representations. We demonstrate the usefulness of our framework in evaluating and interpreting (a) increments in frontal brain activations in the course of normal aging and (b) the effects of cognitive training in adulthood and old age. Finally, we outline new research questions and predictions generated by the present framework and recommend design features for future cognitive-training studies.