Development of a MOtion-Detection Device (MODD) for the Assessment and Training of Cognitive Functioning and Motor Control

mullenSean Mullen

Department of Kinesiology and Community Health,
Beckman Institute and Illinois Informatics Institute

Co-Investigator: Charles H. Hillman, Ph.D., Kinesiology & Community Health

Cognitive control is intimately linked to human motor performance. Emerging literature also suggests that there is considerable plasticity in cognition and motor control throughout normative development, learning, and aging. For decades, stationary, computerized assessments have been used to assess cognitive control and its many facets. Through repetitive practice of the same computer-based tasks, researchers have also attempted to train cognitive functioning, with some mixed evidence of positive “transfer effects,” although favorable effects on balance and gait have been demonstrated. Near-transfer effects (improvements in tasks similar to training stimulus) are more replicable than far-transfer effects (improvements unrelated to training stimuli). Interestingly, however, combining physical activity and cognitive training interventions, delivered either sequentially or simultaneously, have also shown improvements in cognitive control in adults with and without cognitive impairment. Also, to some extent, commercially available “exergaming” technologies have shown enhancement effects on cognitive functioning and mobility among older adults. Although motion-based games, as well as motion capture technologies, are available to consumers and researchers, no technology exists with fully programmable functionality, and the freedom to dually assess and train the orchestrated interrelationships between physical abilities (e.g., speed, endurance, motor control, agility) and cognitive functioning (processing speed, inhibition, working memory). Our new line of research is based on a new device we developed with the intent to explore the interrelationships between MODD outcomes and established measures of physical fitness and cognitive control. MODD assessment and training to modify outcomes will have important implications for healthy individuals, as well as clinical applications, across the lifespan.


  1. Buckley, J., Cohen, J., Kramer, A., McAuley, E., &Mullen, S. P. (accepted). Cognitive control in the self-regulation of physical activity and sedentary behavior. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8; 747. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.000747
  2. Gothe, N. P., Fanning, J., Awick, E., Chung, D., Wójcicki, T. R., Olson, E. A.,Mullen, S.P., Voss, M., Erickson, K. I., Kramer, A. F., & McAuley, E. (2014). Executive function processes predict mobility outcomes in older adults. Journal of the American Geriatric Society, 62(2), 285-290. doi: 10.1111/jgs.12654 PMID: 24521364 PMCID: PMC3927159
  3. McAuley, E., Mullen, S. P., & Hillman, C. H. (2013). Physical activity, cardiorespiratory fitness, and cognition across the lifespan. In P. A. Hall (Ed.), Social neuroscienceand public health: foundations of an emerging discipline. NY: Springer.


Sean Mullen, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Kinesiology & Community Health in the College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is the Director of the Exercise, Technology, & Cognition Laboratory and an affiliate faculty member of the Beckman Institute and the Illinois Informatics Institute. He is currently funded by the National Heart, Lung, & Blood Institute, and by the Center on Health, Aging, and Disability. He has published 26 scientific journal articles, 2 book chapters, and more than 30 conference abstracts. Mullen’s research focuses on understanding and improving exercise adherence and cognitive performance through the use of technology-delivered interventions among both healthy populations and those with chronic disease and disabilities.