Could boosting children’s memory skills reduce anxiety and improve performance at school? | Action Medical Research

Could boosting children’s memory skills reduce anxiety and improve performance at school?

11 October 2011

Spaceships and robots are being used as themes in a set of computer games to boost children’s memory skills as part of a unique research project which hopes to reduce childhood anxiety and improve academic performance. The researchers have been given a grant from children’s charity Action Medical Research.

Anxiety is common during childhood. Evidence suggests up to one in twenty children and adolescents experience an anxiety disorder. Anxious children can worry excessively about all sorts of things – conversations they’ve had, things they’ve done, upcoming events, their health, how good they are at sport or school work, world events and so on.

Children can worry so much that they feel ill and start avoiding everyday activities, such as going to school or out with friends, or taking up a hobby. They may feel sick, breathless, dizzy or panic, and can complain that their tummy hurts. They can also be tearful, irritable or restless, and find it difficult to concentrate or to sleep.

The two-year research project is being carried out thanks to a grant award of £83,282 from Action Medical Research – the leading UK-wide medical research charity dedicated to helping babies and children.

Lead Researcher, Dr Julie Hadwin, from the University of Southampton, said: “Previous research studies have found a consistent link between anxiety and academic underachievement at school – anxious children tend to get lower scores in school tests, are more likely to drop out of school and are less likely to go on to further education.

“Put simply, anxious children may be so busy worrying that they can’t concentrate properly on their lessons – the brain may be so full of worries that it has limited capacity for thinking about other things,” she added.

The research team are inviting around 50 children, aged 11 and 12, who have elevated anxiety levels, to take part in the study. Half of the children will undergo training that is designed to improve their verbal and spatial working memory using a child-friendly programme based on a spaceship/robot theme (RoboMemo from Cogmed Cognitive Medical Systems AB). It will take around half an hour per day for five weeks (up to 25 days).

The other half of the children will meet in small groups for around one hour, twice a week for five weeks, to take part in a tried-and-tested therapy programme called FRIENDS, which was developed to prevent and treat childhood anxiety . 

Dr Alexandra Dedman, Senior Research Evaluation Manager for Action Medical Research, said: “The researchers think that the training programme could be practical and workable. If it is shown to be effective, it could be used alone or along with existing treatments, such as stress management techniques. It could be used by a range of professionals who work in schools – including teachers and educational psychologists.

“The benefits of a successful new treatment could be broad ranging and long lasting. Studies suggest anxiety may start even in very young children, who have not yet started school, and can continue into adulthood.”


For further information please contact:

Claudine Powell, Communications Manager
T: 01403 327478

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Action Medical Research is the leading UK-wide medical research charity dedicated to helping babies and children. We know that medical research can save and change children’s lives. For nearly 60 years we have been instrumental in significant medical breakthroughs, including the development of the UK polio vaccine and ultrasound scanning in pregnancy. Today, we continue to find and fund the very best medical research to help stop the suffering of babies and children caused by disease and disability. We want to make a difference in:
• tackling premature birth and treating sick and vulnerable babies
• helping children affected by disability, disabling conditions and infections
• targeting rare diseases that together severely affect many forgotten children.

  1. Rapee RM, Schniering CA & Hudson JL. Anxiety disorders during childhood and adolescence: origins and treatment. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology 2009; 5: 311-341.
  3. Egger HL & Angold A. Common emotional and behavioural disorders in preschool children: presentation, nosology and epidemiology. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 2006;47: 313-337

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