Monday, April 29, 2013

Is Working Memory Training Effective? A Meta-Analytic Review

Charles Hume and Monica Melby-Lervåg conducted a meta-analysis of the results of different memory training studies to determine if there was an improvement in cognitive function.

Hume and Lervåg examined the results of 23 studies. To be included in the review, studies had to be either quasi-experiments without randomization or randomized controlled trials. The studies also had to have a treatment or an untreated control group. After the selection criteria was implemented, 23 studies with 30 group comparisons were reviewed.

Results of the study showed that there was an improvement in short-term working memory skills. However, in verbal working memory skills, the results were not maintained in follow up studies. On the other hand, "limited evidence" suggested that visuospatial working memory enhancements could be maintained.

The study did not find evidence of working memory training transferring to other skills such as nonverbal and verbal ability, inhibitory processes in attention, word decoding, and arithmetic. Hume and Lervåg concluded that memory training programs to not produce long term, generalizeable results but rather short term and targeted results.

The authors acknowledged possible limitations of the study such as the different clinical conditions of the various studies and the age of participants (ranging from children to adults). Even so, the results were applicable to all ages.


The results of this study are directly applicable to intelligence professionals. First and foremost, targeted memory training can produce specific and short term results. As long as we limit our expectations and make it a habit to practice certain exercises on a regular basis, there would be an improvement in short term working memory skills, which can help an analyst remember more information when conducting analysis.

Second, a project manager or team leader can view software and programs that are advertised as improving all cognitive abilities with legitimate skepticism. This can save both time that would have been wasted trying out a new program as well as the money that would have been wasted purchasing it.

As for the study itself, the only criticism I have is that they used both children and adults. They acknowledge that this is a limitation, but I have some doubts about the applicability of the findings to both children and adults, especially with a an examination of only 23 studies.


Melby-Lervåg M, Hulme C. Is working memory training effective? A meta-analytic review.Developmental Psychology [serial online]. February 2013;49(2):270-291. Available from: PsycARTICLES, Ipswich, MA. Accessed April 29, 2013.


  1. I find positives in this study in the fact that it found that brain training was able to increase specific and short term results. Based on what I have read about brain training, the whole purpose of its application is to make the individual take short brain testing activities every day. Thus, if conducted in this manner I find a considerable amount of relevance to its usage among individuals. I found it interesting that within the meta-analysis none of the studies focused on the older demographic. I find this as an error based on most brain training tools were created for the older demographics to help maintain their cognitive abilities as they age. Lastly, in terms of being related to the intelligence community I think that brain training would be beneficial. I think that brain training overall has the ability to improve cognitive functioning among any age group. Keeping ones brain sharp and improving cognitive thinking process is important to any analyst within the intelligence community in my opinion.

  2. As a meta-analysis this article summarized the research studies I reviewed. It seems like 23 studies is not a large amount to review considering the large volume of studies that were available on the topic. Due to the emphasis on brain training in older adults I think a study that focused on articles is tailored to this demographic would have been very useful. I wonder if the articles that were included in the analysis all incorporated the same amount of training on a daily basis as well as the same amount of days consecutively because this may have been a limitation.

  3. This article touched on some of the results of the article I read; namely, that brain training does not transfer to other skills well but rather is targeted for the specific activity. This meta-analysis is valuable because many studies seem to find contradicting results. Nevertheless, I agree with your critique, although there often are limitations to these studies, brain training can have some value if we are aware of them, particularly in the intelligence field.