Children with disorders, such as dyslexia or attention-deficit/hyperactivity, are not likely to benefit from working memory training, say researchers.
The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Oslo and University College London and published online in The British Journal of Developmental Psychology, also found that memory training tasks have limited effect on healthy children and adults seeking to improve their cognitive skills or do better in school.
Monica Melby-Lervåg, PhD, of the University of Oslo, and lead author of the study, explained:
"The success of working memory training programs is often based on the idea that you can train your brain to perform better, using repetitive memory trials, much like lifting weights builds muscle mass.
However, this analysis shows that simply loading up the brain with training exercises will not lead to better performance outside of the tasks presented within these tests."
Working memory allows an individual to hold and use a limited amount of information in their head for a short amount of time. Tasks designed to enhance working memory usually involve trying to get the person to retain the information presented to them as they perform distracting activities. For instance, participants may be presented with a series of numbers simultaneously on a computer screen. The screen then presents a new number and prompts participants to recall the number immediately preceding.
In this study, the team analyzed 23 different studies that involved young children, children with cognitive impairments, such as ADHA, and healthy adults. The studies were either experiments or randomized controlled trials and had some sort of working memory treatment and a control group.
The researchers found that although working memory training enhanced participants performance on tasks related to the training itself, the training did not affect the participants attention, verbal skills, reading or arithmetic.
Melby-Lervåg, explained: "In other words, the training may help you improve your short-term memory when it's related to the task implemented in training but it won't improve reading difficulties or help you pay more attention in school."
Several commercial, computer-based working memory training programs have been developed in recent years in order to help students suffering from poor academic performance, dyslexia, language disorders, ADHA, or other issues. Some of the programs also claim to increase people's IQs.
The programs, used globally in clinics and schools, mainly involve tasks in which participants are given many challenging memory tests.
"In the light of such evidence, it seems very difficult to justify the use of working memory training programs in relation to the treatment of reading and language disorders. Our findings also cast strong doubt on claims that working memory training is effective in improving cognitive ability and scholastic attainment."