Psychological Research

, Volume 78, Issue 6, pp 803–820 | Cite as

Effects and mechanisms of working memory training: a review

  • Claudia C. von BastianEmail author
  • Klaus Oberauer


Can cognitive abilities such as reasoning be improved through working memory training? This question is still highly controversial, with prior studies providing contradictory findings. The lack of theory-driven, systematic approaches and (occasionally serious) methodological shortcomings complicates this debate even more. This review suggests two general mechanisms mediating transfer effects that are (or are not) observed after working memory training: enhanced working memory capacity, enabling people to hold more items in working memory than before training, or enhanced efficiency using the working memory capacity available (e.g., using chunking strategies to remember more items correctly). We then highlight multiple factors that could influence these mechanisms of transfer and thus the success of training interventions. These factors include (1) the nature of the training regime (i.e., intensity, duration, and adaptivity of the training tasks) and, with it, the magnitude of improvements during training, and (2) individual differences in age, cognitive abilities, biological factors, and motivational and personality factors. Finally, we summarize the findings revealed by existing training studies for each of these factors, and thereby present a roadmap for accumulating further empirical evidence regarding the efficacy of working memory training in a systematic way.


Transfer Effect Working Memory Working Memory Capacity Training Study Training Task 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Preparation of this article was supported by a grant from the Suzanne and Hans Biäsch Foundation for Applied Psychology to C. C. von Bastian and a grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation to K. Oberauer.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychology, University Research Priority Program “Dynamics of Healthy Aging”University of ZurichZurichSwitzerland

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