Thursday, August 23, 2012

Working memory training does not improve IQ

In two new studies (here and here) it was reported that working memory training does not improve cognitive ability. From the second article:
Numerous recent studies seem to provide evidence for the general intellectual benefits of working memory training. In reviews of the training literature, Shipstead, Redick, and Engle (2010, 2012) argued that the field should treat recent results with a critical eye. Many published working memory training studies suffer from design limitations (no-contact control groups, single measures of cognitive constructs), mixed results (transfer of training gains to some tasks but not others, inconsistent transfer to the same tasks across studies), and lack of theoretical grounding (identifying the mechanisms responsible for observed transfer). The current study compared young adults who received 20 sessions of practice on an adaptive dual n-back program (working memory training group) or an adaptive visual search program (active placebo-control group) with a no-contact control group that received no practice. In addition, all subjects completed pretest, midtest, and posttest sessions comprising multiple measures of fluid intelligence, multitasking, working memory capacity, crystallized intelligence, and perceptual speed. Despite improvements on both the dual n-back and visual search tasks with practice, and despite a high level of statistical power, there was no positive transfer to any of the cognitive ability tests.


  1. Anonymous9:13 AM

    This bears out my experiences with dual n-back et al (no improvement on IQ that I can see but, of course, I hardly did a controlled experiment), BUT it *did* improve my ability to store longer strings of information without forgetting (so it's more likely to make the perilous journey from short-to-long-term memory).

    (Memorizing dates has proven to be far simpler than it was before extensive 'brain training', but Supermemo, in my anecdotal experience, is still superior in this regard.)

  2. Aeoli Pera1:36 PM

    I agree with Anonymous that short-term memory itself can be improved with practice, but I disagree that this improves the journey from short-term to long-term memory.

    This is based solely on my experience working in drive-through at a fast food joint. After about 4-6 months I noticed a drastic overall improvement.

    The same happened with my ability to multitask, for the same reason.

    I still don't multitask as well as most women, but the combination is a big step up from bumbling professor syndrome.

  3. Aeoli Pera1:47 PM

    On the topic at hand, it's unsurprising that this has no statistical effect on IQ. If measured IQ is "the ability to answer questions on an IQ test", then only a minimum threshold working memory will increase the number of correct answers. After that, it's mostly memory (of similar problems) and ability to reason through novel situations by analogy/generalization (of similar problems).

  4. Anonymous6:00 AM

    "ability to reason through novel situations by analogy/generalization (of similar problems)."

    well if they are novel, then by definition they are not similar/analogous to other problems.

  5. Aeoli Pera12:07 PM

    Let A = {a, b, c, d}
    Let B = {a, e, f}

    Could we describe the sets as "similar" in any way? Could we describe them as "different"?

    (I'm open to hearing a better description, but I simply doubt you have one.)

  6. The first one doesn't seem to really be new: as far as I can tell, it's just a summary of Chooi's 2011 thesis

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