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May 12

Midwestern Psychological Association 2012 (Chicago, IL)

Transfer of working memory training gains to other cognitive functions

Gigler, K.L. & Reber, P.J.

Problem/Major Purpose: Recent research demonstrating improvements in working memory (WM) capacity has challenged the idea that WM capacity is an immutable cognitive trait. Indeed, relatively modest training protocols have been shown to lead to significant improvement. Because WM is a core cognitive process, increasing capacity has the potential to enhance performance on a wide range of cognitive functions. A critical question is the degree to which gains exhibited on the WM training task transfer from the specifically-trained skill to other tasks, including other cognitive functions. The current work examined the ideas of training and transfer through an experiment which utilized a newly-designed working memory task.

Procedure: Participants were 9 individuals between the ages of 21 and 36 (7 female). Participants received 10 hour-long sessions of training (2000 trials total) on a novel visuospatial working memory task. Each trial consists of two phases: the presentation phase, during which participants see a sequence of moving visual cues and must hold that sequence in WM, and the response phase, during which participants attempt to replicate the sequence. The training is adaptive, adjusting the length of presented sequences based on performance in order to keep training near each individual’s WM span. Transfer to other cognitive functions was assessed through the use of a battery of cognitive tasks completed by participants both before and after training. Improvement on all tasks was examined through the use of paired t-tests.

Results: Participants demonstrated significant and continued improvement on the WM task across training. Reliable improvement was also demonstrated on several other WM tasks, as well as on tests of processing speed, attention and long-term memory.
Implications/Conclusions: These results indicate that the WM task used in this work is a viable candidate for WM training, and that further, such training may improve not only WM-specific performance, but also other cognitive functions and abilities. That WM training can improve performance on cognitive functions such as processing speed and long-term memory suggests its use could be beneficial in work with older adults, children with attentional deficits, and many other clinical populations.

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