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Working Memory Training doesn’t work

Posted May 4, 2017

A new review of the literature conducted by the University’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society (IPHS) published in the journal of Developmental Psychology shows Working Memory Training (WMT) fails to improve the development of cognitive and academic skills in children.

The reported effectiveness of WMT at enhancing cognitive and academic skills is hotly debated.

Working memory is a central intellectual faculty, linked to IQ, ageing, and mental health. More precisely, working memory is the cognitive system used to store and manipulate the information necessary to carry out cognitive tasks.

Fluid intelligence

Several researchers have thus proposed that WMT fosters not only skills such as working memory and short-term memory but also abilities such as fluid intelligence, cognitive control, and related academic abilities, such as literacy and mathematics.

Giovanni Sala, a cognitive scientist from IPHS, questions the validity of these claims. He conducted a meta-analytic review focusing on the effects WMT on cognitive and academic skills – e.g., fluid intelligence, attention/inhibition, mathematics, and literacy – in typically developing children (aged three to 16).

Meta-analysis is an advanced statistical procedure that allows the researcher to merge the results of all the studies regarding a specific topic into a quantitative measure representing the size of the overall effect of one variable (WMT) on another variable (cognitive/academic skills). Thus, meta-analysis provides more accurate and reliable outcomes compared to the single experiment.


Giovanni, said: “The results indicate that WMT is ineffective at enhancing any of the considered skills and that the overall effect is close to zero. The only positive effects of the training occur in tests of working and short-term memory. This pattern of results strongly suggests that the benefits of WMT are task-specific. Put simply, WMT does not enhance any cognitive skill such as memory or intelligence, but the ability to perform some memory tasks.”

These null findings echo the ones recently obtained in other types of cognitive training such as music instruction, video game training, and brain training. In fact, the field has repeatedly failed to prove any generalised benefit regardless of the type of training. Stopping pouring money into cognitive-training research is an option to take into serious consideration.

The full study, entitled ‘Working Memory Training Fails to Improve Typically Developing Children& Cognitive/Academic Skills: A Meta-Analysis’, can be found here.

Source: University of Liverpool

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