Journal of Cognitive Enhancement

, Volume 1, Issue 4, pp 358–373 | Cite as

Improving Older Adults’ Working Memory: the Influence of Age and Crystallized Intelligence on Training Outcomes

  • A. HeringEmail author
  • B. Meuleman
  • C. Bürki
  • E. Borella
  • M. Kliegel
Original Article


To counter age-related decline in cognitive abilities, interventions such as working memory trainings have shown some promising results in old age. Yet, findings are mixed and there is enormous interindividual variability in training and transfer effects. Thus, it is still an open question which person-specific factors may moderate training and transfer effects in working memory interventions in older adults. The present study investigated this issue in the context of an established verbal working memory training. Eighty-eight participants (age range 60–82 years) performed either four sessions of the Borella et al. (Psychology and Aging 25(4):767–778, 2010) working memory training or of a visual search training as active control condition or belonged to a passive control group. Before and after the training, participants performed a test battery to assess different cognitive abilities and everyday competence. Furthermore, we included questionnaires on personality factors and intrinsic motivation as possible covariates. The training group showed a substantial training gain in the working memory criterion task that was not found in the active control group. Furthermore, only participants of the working memory training showed also near transfer to another working memory task. No far transfer effects including everyday competence emerged. In terms of possible moderators, age and crystallized intelligence influenced the training and transfer gain in the training group. In conclusion, our results showed that working memory can be improved in older adults and improvements transfer to a non-trained working memory task. However, person-specific factors have to be considered to understand who benefits from the training and why.


Cognitive training Older adults Working memory Transfer Prospective memory 



MK acknowledges the support from the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF). We thank Thomas Redick (Purdue University) for providing us the task for our active control training group.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

All participants signed an informed consent prior to study participation. The study was approved by the local ethics committee of the University of Geneva.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculté de Psychologie et Sciences de l’EducationUniversité de GenèveGenevaSwitzerland
  2. 2.Swiss Center for Affective SciencesUniversité de GenèveGenevaSwitzerland
  3. 3.University Center for Medicine of AgingFelix Platter-HospitalBaselSwitzerland
  4. 4.Department of General PsychologyUniversity of PadovaPadovaItaly
  5. 5.Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Gerontology and VulnerabilityUniversité de GenèveGenevaSwitzerland
  6. 6.Swiss National Center of Competences in Research LIVES–Overcoming Vulnerability: Life Course PerspectivesLausanne and GenevaSwitzerland

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