Effects of neurofeedback and working memory-combined training on executive functions in healthy young adults

  • Shirley GordonEmail author
  • Doron Todder
  • Inbal Deutsch
  • Dror Garbi
  • Oren Alkobi
  • Oren Shriki
  • Anat Shkedy-Rabani
  • Nitzan Shahar
  • Nachshon Meiran
Original Article


Given the interest in improving executive functions, the present study examines a promising combination of two training techniques: neurofeedback training (NFT) and working memory training (WMT). NFT targeted increasing the amplitude of individual’s upper Alpha frequency band at the parietal midline scalp location (Pz), and WMT consisted of an established computerized protocol with working memory updating and set-shifting components. Healthy participants (n = 140) were randomly allocated to five combinations of training, including visual search training used as an active control training for the WMT; all five groups were compared to a sixth silent control group receiving no training. All groups were evaluated before and after training for resting-state electroencephalogram (EEG) and behavioral executive function measures. The participants in the silent control group were unaware of this procedure, and received one of the training protocols only after study has ended. Results demonstrated significant improvement in the practice tasks in all training groups including non-specific influence of NFT on resting-state EEG spectral topography. There was only a near transfer effect (improvement in working memory task) for WMT, which remained significant in the delayed post-test (after 1 month), in comparison to silent control group but not in comparison to active control training group. The NFT + WMT combined group showed improved mental rotation ability both in the post-training and in the follow-up evaluations. This improvement, however, did not differ significantly from that in the silent control group. We conclude that the current training protocols, including their combination, have very limited influence on the executive functions that were assessed in this study.



The study was supported by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Medical Corps and Directorate of Defense Research & Development, Israeli Ministry of Defense (IMOD DDR&D). We would like to thank Col. Dr. Erez Carmon, Col. Dr. Eyal Fructer and Lut. Idit Oz for their belief in the value of this research and, therefore, supporting this study. Dr. Arik Eisenkraft and Dr. Linn Wagnert-Avraham from the Institute for Research in Military Medicine, the Hebrew University Faculty of Medicine, Jerusalem for their help in purchasing the equipment needed for the study and handling the budget. As well as Mr. Erez Gordon and Prof. Robert Thatcher for advising in regard to analyzing the data.

Author contributions

SG had full access to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. Study concept and design: SG, DT, and NM. Acquisition of data: SG, ID, and NS. Analysis and interpretation of data: all the authors. Drafting of the manuscript: SG, NM, ID and DT. Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: SG and NM. Statistical analysis: SG, OA, DG, NM and AS-R.


The study was supported by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Medical Corps and Directorate of Defense Research & Development, Israeli Ministry of Defense (IMOD DDR&D).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

All the authors report no financial, personal or other relationships with commercial interests.

Supplementary material

426_2019_1170_MOESM1_ESM.docx (28 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 27 KB)


  1. Alfonso, J. P., Caracuel, A., Delgado-Pastor, L. C., & Verdejo-García, A. (2011). Combined goal management training and mindfulness meditation improve executive functions and decision-making performance in abstinent polysubstance abusers. Drug and alcohol dependence, 117, 78–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Altmann, E. M., & Gray, W. D. (2008). An integrated model of cognitive control in task switching. Psychological Review, 115, 602–639.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arbiv, D. C., & Meiran, N. (2015). Performance on the antisaccade task predicts dropout from cognitive training. Intelligence, 49, 25–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Association, W. M. (2013). World Medical Association Declaration of Helsinki: ethical principles for medical research involving human subjects. JAMA, 310, 2191–2194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Au, J., Karsten, C., Buschkuehl, M., & Jaeggi, S. M. (2017). Optimizing transcranial direct current stimulation protocols to promote long-term learning. Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, 1, 65–72.‏.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Au, J., Sheehan, E., Tsai, N., Duncan, G. J., Buschkuehl, M., & Jaeggi, S. M. (2015). Improving fluid intelligence with training on working memory: a meta-analysis. Psychonomic bulletin & review, 22, 366–377.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Basar, E. (2006). The theory of the whole-brain-work. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 60, 133–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Burgess, A., & Gruzelier, J. (1993). Individual reliability of amplitude distribution in topographical mapping of EEG. Electroencephalography and clinical Neurophysiology, 86, 219–223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Buschkuehl, M., Jaeggi, S. M., & Jonides, J. (2012). Neuronal effects following working memory training. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 2, 167–179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cooper, N. R., Croft, R. J., Dominey, S. J., Burgess, A., P., & Gruzelier, J., H (2003). Paradox lost? Exploring the role of alpha oscillations during externally vs. internally directed attention and the implications for idling and inhibition hypotheses. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 47, 65–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Diamond, A., Barnett, W. S., Thomas, J., & Munro, S. (2007). Preschool program improves cognitive control. Science, 318, 1387–1388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Ditye, T., Jacobson, L., Walsh, V., & Lavidor, M. (2012). Modulating behavioral inhibition by tDCS combined with cognitive training. Experimental Brain Research, 219, 363–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Egner, T., Zech, T. F., & Gruzelier, J. H. (2004). The effects of neurofeedback training on the spectral topography of the electroencephalogram. Clinical Neurophysiology, 115(11), 2452–2460.‏.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Enriquez-Geppert, S., Huster, R. J., & Herrmann, C. S. (2017). EEG-neurofeedback as a tool to modulate cognition and behavior: a review tutorial. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 11, 51–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Escolano, C., Aguilar, M., & Minguez, J. (2011). EEG-based upper alpha neurofeedback training improves working memory performance. In Engineering in medicine and biology society, EMBC, 2011 Annual International Conference of the IEEE, pp. 2327–2330.Google Scholar
  16. Finnigan, S., & Robertson, I. H. (2011). Resting EEG theta power correlates with cognitive performance in healthy older adults. Psychophysiology, 48, 1083–1087.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fox, K. C., Dixon, M. L., Nijeboer, S., Girn, M., Floman, J. L., Lifshitz, M., … Christoff, K. (2016). Functional neuroanatomy of meditation: A review and meta-analysis of 78 functional neuroimaging investigations. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 65, 208–228.&#8207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Friedman, N. P., & Miyake, A. (2017). Unity and diversity of executive functions: Individual differences as a window on cognitive structure. Cortex, 86, ‏‏186–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gal, R. (1986). A portrait of the Israeli soldier. Westport‏: Greenwood Publishing Group.Google Scholar
  20. Gevins, A., & Smith, M. E. (2000). Neurophysiological measures of working memory and individual differences in cognitive ability and cognitive style. Cerebral Cortex, 10, 829–839.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gevins, A., Zeitlin, G. M., Yingling, C. D., Doyle, J. C., Dedon, M. F., Schaffer, R. E., Yeager, C. L. (1979). EEG patterns during ‘cognitive’ tasks. I. Methodology and analysis of complex behaviors. Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology, 47, 693–703.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gevins, A. S., Zeitlin, G. M., Doyle, J. C., Schaffer, R. E., & Callaway, E. (1979). EEG patterns during ‘cognitive’ tasks. II. Analysis of controlled tasks. Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology, 47, 704–710.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Gevins, A. S., Zeitlin, G. M., Doyle, J. C., Yingling, C. D., Schaffer, R. E., Callaway, E., & Yeager, C. L. (1979). Electroencephalogram correlates of higher cortical functions. Science, 203, 665–668.&#8207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gordon, S., Todder, D., Deutsch, I., Garbi, D., Getter, N., & Meiran, N. (2018). Are resting state spectral power measures related to executive functions in healthy young adults? Neuropsychologia, 108, 61–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Goyal, M., Singh, S., Sibinga, E. M., Gould, N. F., Rowland-Seymour, A., Sharma, R., Ranasinghe, P. D. (2014). Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Internal Medicine, 174, 357–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gruzelier, J. H. (2014a). EEG-neurofeedback for optimizing performance. I: a review of cognitive and affective outcome in healthy participants. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 44, 124–141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Gruzelier, J. (2014b). EEG-neurofeedback for optimizing performance. III: a review of methodological and theoretical considerations. Neuroscience Biobehavioral Reviews, 44, 159–182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Guez, J., Rogel, A., Getter, N., Keha, E., Cohen, T., Amor, T., & Todder, D. (2015). Influence of electroencephalography neurofeedback training on episodic memory: A randomized, sham-controlled, double-blind study. Memory, 23, 683–694.&#8207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hanslmayr, S., Sauseng, P., Doppelmayr, M., Schabus, M., & Klimesch, W. (2005). Increasing individual upper alpha power by neurofeedback improves cognitive performance in human subjects. Journal of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 30, 1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Harrison, T. L., Shipstead, Z., Hicks, K. L., Hambrick, D. Z., Redick, T. S., & Engle, R. W. (2013). Working memory training may increase working memory capacity but not fluid intelligence. Psychological Science, 24, 2409–2419.&#8207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hosseini, S. H., Pritchard-Berman, M., Sosa, N., Ceja, A., & Kesler, S. R. (2016). Task-based neurofeedback training: A novel approach toward training executive functions. NeuroImage, 134, 153–159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hummel, F., Andres, F., Altenmüller, E., Dichgans, J., & Gerloff, C. (2002). Inhibitory control of acquired motor programs in the human brain. Brain, 125, 404–420.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hyun, J. S., & Luck, S. J. (2007). Visual working memory as the substrate for mental rotation. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 14, 154–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Jaeggi, S. M., Buschkuehl, M., Jonides, J., & Perrig, W. J. (2008). Improving fluid intelligence with training on working memory. In Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105, pp. 6829–6833.Google Scholar
  35. JASP Team. (2018). JASP (Version 0.8.6) [Computer software].Google Scholar
  36. Johnstone, S. J., Roodenrys, S. J., Johnson, K., Bonfield, R., & Bennett, S. J. (2017). Game-based combined cognitive and neurofeedback training using Focus Pocus reduces symptom severity in children with diagnosed AD/HD and subclinical AD/HD. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 116, 32–44.&#8207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Just, M. A., & Carpenter, P. A. (1985). Cognitive coordinate systems: accounts of mental rotation and individual differences in spatial ability. Psychological Review, 92, 137–172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Kaiser, D. A., & Sterman, M. B. (2001). Automatic artifact detection, overlapping windows, and state transitions. Journal of Neurotherapy, 4, 85–92.&#8207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Kaplan, Z., Weiser, M., Reichenberg, A., Rabinowitz, J., Caspi, A., Bodner, E., & Zohar, J. (2002). Motivation to serve in the military influences vulnerability to future posttraumatic stress disorder. Psychiatry Research, 109, 45–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. ‏Karbach, J., & Verhaeghen, P. (2014). Making working memory work: A meta-analysis of executive-control and working memory training in older adults. Psychological Science, 25, 2027–2037.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Kashdan, T. B., & Rottenberg, J. (2010). Psychological flexibility as a fundamental aspect of health. Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 865–878.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Klimesch, W. (1999). EEG alpha and theta oscillations reflect cognitive and memory performance: a review and analysis. Brain Research Reviews, 29, 169–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Klimesch, W., Doppelmayr, M., Schwaiger, J., Auinger, P., & Winkler, T. (1999). Paradoxical’alpha synchronization in a memory task. Cognitive Brain Research, 7, 493–501.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Koch, I., Gade, M., Schuch, S., & Philipp, A. M. (2009). The role of inhibition in task switching: A review. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 17, 1–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Laming, D. (1979). Choice reaction performance following an error. Acta Psychologica, 43, 199–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Langer, N., von Bastian, C. C., Wirz, H., Oberauer, K., & Jäncke, L. (2013). The effects of working memory training on functional brain network efficiency. Cortex, 49, 2424–2438.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Logemann, H. A., Lansbergen, M. M., Van Os, T. W., Böcker, K. B., & Kenemans, J. L. (2010). The effectiveness of EEG-feedback on attention, impulsivity and EEG: a sham feedback controlled study. Neuroscience Letters, 479, 49–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Mayr, U., & Keele, S. W. (2000). Changing internal constraints on action: The role of backward inhibition. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 129, 4–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Mayr, U., & Kliegl, R. (2000). Task-set switching and long-term memory retrieval. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 26, 1124–1140.Google Scholar
  50. Mayr, U., & Kliegl, R. (2003). Differential effects of cue changes and task changes on task-set selection costs. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 29, 362–372.Google Scholar
  51. Meiran, N., Chorev, Z., & Sapir, A. (2000). Component processes in task switching. Cognitive Psychology, 41, 211–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Meiran, N., Hsieh, S., & Chang, C. (2011). “Smart inhibition”: Electrophysiological evidence for the suppression of conflict-generating task rules during task-switching. Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience, 11, 299–308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Meiran, N., Hsieh, S., & Dimov, E. (2010). Resolving task rule incongruence during task switching by competitor rule suppression. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 36, 992–1002.Google Scholar
  54. Melby-Lervåg,M., & Hulme,C. (2016).There is no convincing evidence that working memory training is effective: A reply to Auet al. (2014) and Karbach and Verhaeghen (2014). Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 23, 324–330.‏CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Mirifar, A., Beckmann, J., & Ehrlenspiel, F. (2017). Neurofeedback as supplementary training for optimizing athletes’ performance: A systematic review with implications for future research. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 75, 419–432.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Miyake, A., Friedman, N. P., Emerson, M. J., Witzki, A. H., Howerter, A., & Wager, T. D. (2000). The unity and diversity of executive functions and their contributions to complex “frontal lobe” tasks: A latent variable analysis. Cognitive Psychology, 41, 49–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Nan, W., Rodrigues, J. P., Ma, J., & Qu, X. (2012). Individual alpha neurofeedback training effect on short term memory. Current Psychiatry Reports, 14, 536–542.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Oken, B. S., Flegal, K., Zajdel, D., Kishiyama, S., Haas, M., & Peters, D. (2008). Expectancy effect: impact of pill administration on cognitive performance in healthy seniors. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 30, 7–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Park, S. H., Seo, J. H., Kim, Y. H., & Ko, M. H. (2014). Long-term effects of transcranial direct current stimulation combined with computer-assisted cognitive training in healthy older adults. Neuroreport, 25, 122–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Patel, R., Spreng, R. N., & Turner, G. R. (2013). Functional brain changes following cognitive and motor skills training: a quantitative meta-analysis. Neurorehabilitation and neural repair, 27, 187–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Rabbitt, P. M. (1966). Errors and error correction in choice-response tasks. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 71, 264–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Redick, T. S., Shipstead, Z., Harrison, T. L., Hicks, K. L., Fried, D. E., Hambrick, D. Z., Engle, R. W. (2013). No evidence of intelligence improvement after working memory training: a randomized, placebo-controlled study. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. 142, 359.‏.Google Scholar
  63. Rouder, J. N., Morey, R. D., Speckman, P. L., & Province, J. M. (2012). Default Bayes factors for ANOVA designs. Journal of Mathematical Psychology, 56, 356–374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Schmiedek, F., Oberauer, K., Wilhelm, O., Süss, H. M., & Wittmann, W. W. (2007). Individual differences in components of reaction time distributions and their relations to working memory and intelligence. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 136, 414–429.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Shahar, N., & Meiran, N. (2015). Learning to control actions: transfer effects following a procedural cognitive control computerized training. PloS One. 10, e0119992‏.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Shahar, N., Pereg, M., Teodorescu, A. R., Moran, R., Karmon-Presser, A., & Meiran, N. (2018). Formation of abstract task representations: Exploring dosage and mechanisms of working memory training effects. Cognition, 181, 151–159.&#8207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Shahar, N., Teodorescu, A. R., Usher, M., Pereg, M., & Meiran, N. (2014). Selective influence of working memory load on exceptionally slow reaction times. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143, 1837‏.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Shepard, J., & Metzler (1971). Mental rotation of three-dimensional objects. Science, 701–703.Google Scholar
  69. Soffer-Dudek, N., Todder, D., Shelef, L., Deutsch, I., & Gordon, S. (2018). A neural correlate for common trait dissociation: Decreased EEG connectivity is related to dissociative absorption. Journal of Personality.Google Scholar
  70. Soveri, A., Antfolk, J., Karlsson, L., Salo, B., & Laine, M. (2017). Working memory training revisited: A multi-level meta-analysis of n-back training studies. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review. 1–20.Google Scholar
  71. Van Albada, S. J., & Robinson, P.A. (2007). Transformation of arbitrary distributions to the normal distribution with application to EEG test–retest reliability. Journal of neuroscience methods, 161, 205–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Wan, F., Nan, W., Vai, M. I., & Rosa, A. (2014). Resting alpha activity predicts learning ability in alpha neurofeedback. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8, 500‏‏‏.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Zoefel, B., Huster, R. J., & Herrmann, C. S. (2011). Neurofeedback training of the upper alpha frequency band in EEG improves cognitive performance. Neuroimage, 54, 1427–1431.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shirley Gordon
    • 1
    • 4
    Email author
  • Doron Todder
    • 2
    • 3
  • Inbal Deutsch
    • 4
  • Dror Garbi
    • 1
    • 4
  • Oren Alkobi
    • 5
  • Oren Shriki
    • 5
  • Anat Shkedy-Rabani
    • 5
  • Nitzan Shahar
    • 1
  • Nachshon Meiran
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychology and Zlotowski Center for NeuroscienceBen-Gurion University of the NegevBeershebaIsrael
  2. 2.Mental Health Center, Beer ShevaMinistry of HealthBeershebaIsrael
  3. 3.Center for NeuroscienceBen-Gurion University of the NegevBeershebaIsrael
  4. 4.IDF Medical CorpsRamat GanIsrael
  5. 5.Department of Cognitive and Brain SciencesBen-Gurion University of the NegevBeershebaIsrael

Personalised recommendations