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Divergent Research Methods Limit Understanding of Working Memory Training

Abstract

Working memory training has been a hot topic over the last decade. Although studies show benefits in trained and untrained tasks as a function of training, there is an ongoing debate on the efficacy of working memory training. There have been numerous meta-analyses put forth to the field, some finding overall broad transfer effects while others do not. However, discussion of this research typically overlooks specific qualities of the training and transfer tasks. As such, there has been next to no discussion in the literature on what training and transfer tasks features are likely to mediate training outcomes. To address this gap, here, we characterized the broad diversity of features employed in N-back training tasks and outcome measures in published working memory training studies. Extant meta-analyses have not taken into account the diversity of methodology at this level, primarily because there are too few studies using common methods to allow for a robust meta-analysis. We suggest that these limitations preclude strong conclusions from published data. In order to advance research on working memory training, and in particular, N-back training, more studies are needed that systematically compare training features and use common outcome measures to assess transfer effects.

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Notes

  1. Note that only studies that assessed transfer are reported here.

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Funding

This research was supported by NIMH R01 MH111742 to ARS and SMJ, NIH/NIA 1K02AG054665 to SMJ, and a research grant to VP from the Belgian Fund for Scientific Research-Flanders (G088314N), by research grants to MMVH from the Financing program (PFV/10/008), an interdisciplinary research project (IDO/12/007), an industrial research fund project (IOF/HB/12/021) and a special research fund project (C24/18/098) of the KU Leuven, the Belgian Fund for Scientific Research-Flanders (G088314N, G0A0914N, G0A4118N), the Interuniversity Attraction Poles Programme—Belgian Science Policy (IUAP P7/11), the Flemish Regional Ministry of Education (Belgium) (GOA 10/019), and the Hercules Foundation (AKUL 043).

SMJ has an indirect conflict of interest with the MIND Research Institute whose interests are related to this work.

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Pergher, V., Shalchy, M.A., Pahor, A. et al. Divergent Research Methods Limit Understanding of Working Memory Training. J Cogn Enhanc 4, 100–120 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41465-019-00134-7

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Keywords

  • Transfer
  • Working memory training
  • N-back
  • Cognitive functions
  • Meta-analysis