By Interactive Metronome - March 6, 2014

Meet March’s Professional of the Month, Dr. Kevin McGrew

Name: Dr. Kevin McGrew

Type of Professional: Professor and Researcher

Facility Name:  Institute for Applied Psychometrics (IAP)

Location: St. Joseph, Minnesota

Introduction: Dr. Kevin McGrew, or the Time Doc, is the Director of the Institute for Applied Psychometrics (IAP). He is also the Research Director for the Woodcock-Muñoz Foundation (WMF) and a Visiting Professor in Educational Psychology at the University of Minnesota. He received a master’s degree in School Psychology at Moorhead State University and a doctoral degree in Educational Psychology at the University of Minnesota. He was a practicing school psychologist for 12 years and then spent 10 years as a Professor of Applied Psychology at St. Cloud State University. Dr. McGrew currently conducts research in the areas of theories of human intelligence, personal competence, intelligence testing, school learning, and the application of neurotechnology to cognitive performance and learning. He has published over 70 different journal articles, books or book chapters in his areas of expertise. Additional information can be found at his MindHub® web portal (www.themindhub.com).

Dr. McGrew is a member of the IM scientific advisory board and he explains his theory on brain timing in our new IM demo video. Dr. McGrew also has several other new projects underway, including co-authoring the fourth edition of the Woodcock-Johnson battery (WJ IV), a comprehensive, individually administered battery of cognitive, language and achievement tests. Find out more about the Woodcock Johnson: Fourth Edition, at www.wj-iv.com.

How did you get involved in the WJ IV?
I started using the original 1977 Woodcock-Johnson (WJ) as a practicing school psychologist and conducted applied research projects with the battery in the school system where I worked. I eventually accumulated enough research information that I starting publishing journal articles from my research and a book on interpreting the original cognitive battery. I connected with Dr. Woodcock who asked me to help on the second edition (WJ-R) while I was working on my doctorate at the University of Minnesota. I then wrote a new interpretation book on the cognitive portion of the WJ-R, as well as two other books related to the interpretation of all major intelligence batteries. I continued to collaborate with Dr. Woodcock and was subsequently asked to coauthor the WJ III that was published in 2001. The WJ IV revision, available this June, followed.

What is WJ IV and how can people benefit from using it?
It is now a combination of three separate batteries that can be used independently or in combination. The components are the Tests of Cognitive Ability (aka, intelligence), Tests of Oral Language, and Tests of Achievement. It can be used to identify a person’s strengths and weaknesses in cognitive, linguistic and academic domains. It is frequently used to help diagnose or classify individuals for special education programs in the schools.

What is new in this fourth edition?
This is a major revision and reorganization. The Tests of Oral Language is a completely new battery. A number of new achievement tests have been added in reading comprehension and fluency. The biggest changes in the cognitive battery were the addition of several new tests and subtests and we focused on increasing the cognitive complexity of the cognitive abilities measured. A number of new test and cluster score comparison procedures (variations and comparisons) have been added to better help identify cognitive, language, and achievement strengths and weaknesses for an individual.

How is WJ IV administered?
It is a clinical instrument that requires individual administration by a properly credentialed examiner. It is not a group administered test. An examiner must administer and score the test on a 1-1 format to an individual.

How can providers request more information or purchase WJ IV?
Information is available from the publisher at www.wj-iv.com. I will be posting new information and research regarding the WJ IV at my IQ’s Corner Blog and at the MindHub®.

Tell us your theory on why timing in the brain is important, and what it means.
Timing in the brain is very important for a wide range of human cognitive and motor behaviors. Research has mushroomed during the past few decades which has suggested that information processing in our brain networks is significantly influenced by some kind of temporal processing or “brain clock” mechanism (or multiple mechanisms). The higher the resolution and faster the brain clock ticks, the more efficient your brain can communicate and engage in cognitive and motor tasks. It’s like comparing one clock that measures time down to tenths of a second to one that measures time only at the level of seconds—the first clock has higher temporal resolution or precision.

Please describe your IM Effect Theory.
I have written a detailed white paper (The Science Behind Interactive Metronome: An Integration of Brain Clock, Temporal Processing, Brain Network and Neurocognitive Research and the IM Effect) that is available at the MindHub (http://www.iapsych.com/articles/mindhubpub2.pdf). Briefly, the primary concept is that of neural or brain timing efficiency—how fast the neurons fire in the brain. The faster they fire, recharge and fire again, the more efficient information can be processed between different brain networks. You can think about waveforms; when neurons are at the peak of the wave they are firing. Then, they must recharge (called the refractory period) before firing again, which is seen as a dip, low point, or trough in the waveform. After they recharge and refresh, they are again at the peak of the wave and can fire again. If the neurons can peak and fire more often it is believed this results in more efficient communication across brain networks and key brain hubs. This allows us to engage in more efficient and synchronized cognitive and motor behaviors.

How can timing help improve focus, processing speed, working memory and motor functioning?
As stated above, more efficient neural timing results in more cohesive, synchronized, efficient brain network communication. The three large scale networks primarily involved in focus (attentional control or spotlight attention), processing speed, and working memory (the mental work space scratchpad) are the default, salience and controlled executive networks. More efficient neural timing between these three networks can allow the air traffic controller network (salience) to detect when a person’s mental work space (under control of the executive control network) is being compromised by distractions from their immediate environment or from mind wandering (from the default network). Other areas of the brain (e.g., motor and supplementary motor cortices and cerebellum) play a major role in coordination of motor behavior. Thus, better synchronized neural timing between the networks involved in the communication between motor-related brain hubs can produce more efficient motor behavior. A classic statement from neurology sums it up—neurons that fire together, wire together. One could extend this by saying that networks that synch together, think better together.

How would adult patients benefit from using IM?
I hear this question frequently, especially regarding adults that may have experienced traumatic brain injuries, concussions, strokes, etc. Everything that happens in the human body, such as communicating through our body or moving the body (arm or leg), is based on communicating signals from the brain that are directed to many large and small muscles. Precise and efficient neural communication of brain signals to muscles is required for precise and controlled motor behaviors. For individuals who are experiencing motor problems due to cerebral insult, IM, via the well known principle of brain plasticity, can help people rewire, or find different communication pathways, to improve their impaired motor behaviors. I would also tell patients, especially those with TBI or who have suffered a concussion, who often describe experiencing a kind of brain fog, that IM can help return the brain back its best possible state. For example, IM sponsored a controlled experiment by Dr. Lonnie Nelson, where IM training was used on VA soldiers who had experienced active duty brain-related blast injuries. Half the subjects were assigned to a control group while the other half received IM training. Some of those in the IM group could tell within a week or two that their “cog fog” was lifting, and began looking forward to their IM sessions. The statistical analysis of the data revealed significantly improved average neuropsychological functioning for the veterans who received the IM training.

How would child patients benefit from using IM? What would you tell the parents?
There are a number of different potential benefits for children who receive IM training. The first is that almost all children, but particularly those with ADD/ADHD, can be trained to improve their focus (controlled attention)—which can facilitate more efficient learning. Through IM, children are able to learn what I call “detect and deflect” skills. IM trains individuals to better detect when they are being distracted by something in the environment or by internal “mind wandering”. Once distractions are detected, IM teaches children to deflect the distractions. By detecting and deflecting external and internal distractions, a child’s learning can become more efficient. For example, when a child is reading, if they are thinking about something unrelated to the reading text and they detect this attentional drift, deflect it and redirect their focus to the reading text, they can better connect the ideas, content and meaning from the text with prior information in their long-term memory.

A secondary advantage of IM is that children can learn that they have the ability to control a part of their mind. This can be a powerful experience and can produce increases in self-efficacy (“I can do this..I can control my attention”), which may positively increase key social-emotional characteristics related to learning. I would also say that most children like the gaming format. However, it is particularly important to remind children that they have to “train to gain.” A frequently heard report is once children initially master IM they describe it as boring. As a result, they drop their detect and deflect muscles and mind wandering starts to seep into their working mental work space (working memory)…resulting in poorer performance. Rather than accepting their assessment that the task is now boring, this should be viewed as the most critical time to NOT give up on IM training. This is the point where they really need to buckle down even more and continue IM to learn how to control the mind wandering via their newly learned skills of controlling their attention and their detecting and deflecting skills.

Tell us how you became involved with IM.
I became involved with IM as a result of a phone call I received from a colleague who was conducting a study of IM in an elementary school. At first, I was skeptical; however, my colleague convinced me to look into IM, and I watched children while they were going through the IM training. I also tried it myself and immediately knew this technology was working on an some aspects of attention, working memory and executive functions.

I decided to team up with my colleague and help with the analysis of the study data. We found a significant difference between the children who had IM training and the control group children who did not. The IM group demonstrated higher improvement scores not only on mental timing as measured by IM, but also on test scores on a variety of reading achievement and reading related cognitive abilities. I was thrilled with the findings, which were published in an article in Psychology in the Schools (www.iapsych.com/articles/taub2007.pdf). In this article, we explained the results and offered theoretical hypotheses explaining why IM produced positive academic outcomes.

Who do you think could benefit from IM?
Everyone can benefit from IM. If you think of elite athletes, often the difference between a gold and bronze medal is not physical skills..it is mental (focus). I also believe that IM can help individuals at the higher end of cognitive functioning become more efficient in their cognitive performances. It’s like going to the gym; you have to keep at it and keep cognitive functioning active. In terms of cognitive abilities, IM appears to primarily improve focus, working memory, and controlled attention—cognitive efficiency skills important for almost all forms of learning and performing. IM has been demonstrated to help individuals with TBI and ADHD. I see strong potential for IM technology to help our aging population retain more of its critical brain-based cognitive efficiency abilities. Use it or lose it.

How does IM differ from other brain training programs, like Lumosity?
Currently there is considerable interest and activity in the industry of brain training and fitness. There are a lot of brain training or fitness products on the market. Some have supporting research. The majority of these programs focus on improving cognitive skills via games or puzzles. IM is different, in my perspective, because IM goes directly to source code, which is controlled attention, which is indirectly targeted in these other brain training programs. Rather than focusing on tasks or games that focus just on working memory, IM impacts controlled attention (focus), which is one of the primary causal agents behind better working memory. It goes directly past “Go”…to a fundamental cognitive skill that, when improved, can in turn, improve working memory, cognitive speed and executive functions. IM has a very elegant powerful, and robust neurotechnology.

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