Importance of Working Memory

"Working Memory is our ability to work with information. We like to think of working memory as the brain’s Conductor." - Psychology Today (August 2013)

"It was triggered by a study where I followed a group of children from age five up until 11. I found that their working memory at five was a very powerful predictor of their overall achievement in school six years later, much more than their IQ scores." - Raw Story (Dec 2012)

"In a separate battery of tests, looking at overall intelligence, the prodigies also scored exceedingly high in "working memory" -- the brain's ability to juggle several pieces of information at a time, in order to get a task done." - US News (Nov 2012)

"More striking is that every single prodigy scored off the charts in working memory -- better than 99 percent of the general population. In fact, six out of the eight prodigies scored at the 99.9th percentile! Working memory isn't solely the ability to memorize a string of digits. That's short-term memory. Instead, working memory involves the ability to hold information in memory while being able to manipulate and process other incoming information." - Psychology Today (July 2012)

"A fascinating paper by Carsten De Dreu, Bernard Nijstad, Matthijs Baas, Inge Wolsink, and Marieke Roskes in the May, 2012 issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggests that people’s working memory capacity may also play a role in the creativity on display." - Psychology Today (May 2012)

"Dyscalculia and Working Memory" - Psychology Today (Jan 2012)

"In a provocative new paper, Hambrick suggests working memory capacity -- which is closely related to general intelligence -- may sometimes be the deciding factor between good and great." - Science Daily (Oct 2011)

"They decided to look at impulse control in heavy drinkers. So, they invited people who drank upwards of 30 drinks per week to complete a series of on-line working memory training sessions. There were 25 sessions in total spread out over roughly a month's time and folks took part in either a treatment or placebo training group." - Psychology Today (July 2011) via Life Hacker (July 2011)

"Working memory is a better predictor of academic success than IQ" - Psychology Today (Dec 2010)

"But whatever their working environment, it's clear that some people are simply better at focusing on the task at hand. What makes people's minds more or less likely to wander? Several studies point to working memory capacity as the key."Cognitive Daily (March 2009) 

"It has generally been shown that the more working memory capacity a person has, the better their performance on academic tasks such as problem solving and reasoning." - Science 2.0 (Dec 2008)

"The findings validate that working memory training makes significant and lasting improvements in the lives of students who suffer from attention problems," said Bozylinski. "This is very promising for a range of people who would otherwise struggle with these debilitating issues for the rest of their lives." -  Medical News Today (Dec 2007) 

Working Memory Increase and Video Games

"Additional analyses found that the people who played the complex version of the game had to keep more information in mind while playing than those who played the simple version.  Practice using all of this information may have been the root of the improvement on the flexibility tasks." - Psychology Today (August 2013)  and  Plos One (August 2013)

"The researchers used electroencephalography (EEG) to observe the electrical activity in the brains of 39 study participants before they trained on the video game ‘Space Fortress,’ a game developed for cognitive research... The researchers also found that learning to play the game improved subjects’ reaction time and working memory, the ability to hold a piece of information in mind just until it is needed." - Redorbit (Oct 2012)  and  Cercor (Oct 2012)

"A neural network underlying attentional control involves the anterior cingulate in addition to lateral prefrontal areas. An important development of this network occurs between 3 and 7 years of age. We have examined the efficiency of attentional networks across age and after 5 days of attention training (experimental group) compared with different types of no training (control groups) in 4-year-old and 6-year-old children. Strong improvement in executive attention and intelligence was found from ages 4 to 6 years. Both 4- and 6-year-olds showed more mature performance after the training than did the control groups." - NCBI (Sept 2005)

Working Memory Decrease and Video Games

"And a new Iowa State University study has found that high volume action video game players -- those who play around 40 hours per week -- actually had more difficulty keeping focused on tasks requiring longer, more proactive attention than those who played video games less than a couple of hours a week.  The study, published online this week in the latest issue of the professional journal Psychophysiology, also supports research published within the last year establishing a positive association between being addicted to playing video games and having Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)."  -  PhysOrg (Oct 2009)  and  Science Centric (Oct 2009)  and  eScience News (Oct 2009)

"Video game players are often accused of passively reacting to tasks that are spoon fed to them through graphics and stimuli on the screen. A group of researchers from Iowa State University shows that playing lots of video games has different effects on two types of cognitive activity, proactive and reactive attention. Proactive attention can be thought of as a sort of "gearing up" mechanism. For instance, when players that are familiar with a particular game anticipate an action they need to take, such as getting a key or a pot of gold, in order to get to the next level. Reactive control is described as happening "just in time", for example, when a monster suddenly appears that is about to thwart the player's advantage or ability to get to the next level.

The study was published in the latest issue of Psychophysiology and used a simple visual task to test the two types of attention by measuring brain waves and behavioral responses. This task measured how proactive and reactive attention differed in frequent video game players vs. occasional players. In the task, individuals identified the color of a word when the color and word matched, such as "RED" presented in red, or did not match, such as "RED" presented in blue or green. It takes longer to indicate the color when the word does not match.

The researchers found that the just-in-time form of control was similar in the two groups of gamers. In contrast, brain wave and behavioral measures of proactive attention (the "gearing up" mechanism") were significantly diminished in the frequent video game players. These data reveal a reduction in brain activity and disruption of behavior associated with sustained attention ability related to video game experience, which converges with other recent findings indicating that there is a relation between frequent video game playing and ADD. This negative relationship between action games and proactive attention can be contrasted with the beneficial effects of these games on other aspects of visual processing. The research team is also exploring whether non-gamers who play action games produce the same results as those found in frequent players." - eScience News (Oct 2009)  

Working Memory and Brainwaves

"Working memory is the ability to actively hold information in the mind. Recent results demonstrate that working memory is organized by oscillatory processes in the theta and gamma frequency range." - Current Biology (June 2010)

"Functional imaging of human cortex implicates a diverse network of brain regions supporting working memory — the capacity to hold and manipulate information for short periods of time. Although we are beginning to map out the brain networks supporting working memory, little is known about its physiological basis. We analyzed intracranial recordings from two epileptic patients as they performed a working memory task. Spectral analyses revealed that, in both patients, gamma (30–60 Hz) oscillations increased approximately linearly with memory load, tracking closely with memory load over the course of the trial. This constitutes the first evidence that gamma oscillations, widely implicated in perceptual processes, support the maintenance of multiple items in working memory." -  Cerebral Cortex (2003) 

Working Memory and fMRI

"Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMR1) was used to examine the pattern of activity of prefrontal cortex in prepubertal children during performance of a nonspatial working memory task."  -  Science Direct (Sept 1995) 

Working Memory and Creative Play

"The kind of play that educators and psychologists say encourages executive function is sustained, elaborate imaginary play where kids make a plan, stay in character (doctor, teacher, sales person), and live in that alternate world for an extended period of time. " - (May 2010)

Working Memory and ADHD

Study finds that getting kids to exercise their working memory improved their ADHD symptoms

"Working memory, housed in the prefrontal cortex, is strongly related to executive control. People with less working memory have poor executive functioning and training working memory improves executive control. Because of this, Katrijn Houben and her colleagues at Maastricht University in the Netherlands set out to test whether strengthening people's working memory might help them control their impulses."  -  Psychology Today (July 2011)

More on the Working Memory Treatment

When her son Alex was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder at the age of 10, Karen George was reluctant to put him on medication. Instead, she enrolled him in a clinical trial designed to test the efficacy of a brain stimulation program made by Cogmed, a private company that uses computer programs to exercise parts of the brain responsible for short-term memory.

"One useful tool to identify and support students with working memory impairments is the Automated Working Memory Assessment (AWMA; Alloway, 2007 published by Pearson). The benefit of the AWMA is that it is designed to provide a practical and convenient way for non-expert assessors such as teachers to screen their pupils for significant working memory problems, with a user-friendly interface. The automated presentation and scoring of tasks provide consistency in presentation of stimuli across participants, thus reducing experimenter error." - Psychology Today (Jan 2011)

"The researchers say this shows that training in working memory can have significant effects in other cognitive skills, even in four- and five-year-olds. Since improving working memory has been shown to reduce symptoms of ADHD in older kids, they say their short training program might also be effective for preschoolers." -  Cognitive Daily (March 2009) 

"ADD and Working Memory - Pump It Up! Working Out Your Working Memory

A Promising Therapeutic Strategy for ADD"  - (Sept 2008) 

"Researchers gathered four groups of volunteers and trained their working memories using a complex training task called "dual n-back training," which presented both auditory and visual cues that participants had to temporarily store and recall." - Science Daily (June 2008)

"Brain-training efforts designed to improve working memory can also boost scores in general problem-solving ability and improve fluid intelligence, according to new University of Michigan research." - Science Daily (May 2008)

Online Neuro-Cognitive Programs for ADHD - Attengo

Games to Improve Working Memory

"Brain Workshop is a free open-source version of the dual n-back brain training exercise." -  Brain Workshop

Free Brain Games  -  Memory Improvement

"Possible reasons for why the computerized working memory training led to some far transfer effects in the high-frequency Training group are included in the discussion." - Science Direct (May 2013)

"These results indicate that a short regimen of WM training is associated with lower prefrontal activation—a marker of neural efficiency—in divergent thinking." - Science Direct (April 2013)

"Working memory training does not live up to the hype" - BPS Research (Feb 2013)  and Rebuttal: Cogmed

"What is surprising is what else it improved. In a 2008 study, Susanne Jaeggi and Martin Buschkuehl, now of the University of Maryland, found that young adults who practiced a stripped-down, less cartoonish version of the game also showed improvement in a fundamental cognitive ability known as “fluid” intelligence: the capacity to solve novel problems, to learn, to reason, to see connections and to get to the bottom of things. The implication was that playing the game literally makes people smarter." - The New York Times (April 2012)

"Various techniques are reported in the research literature, and the best results seem to come from n-back methods. One study by Verhaeghen and colleagues show that memory span could be increased from one to four steps back with 10 hours (1 hr/session) of N-back training." - Psychology Today (March 2012)

"“Research suggests that differences in attentional control abilities emerge early in development and that children with better attentional control subsequently learn better in academic settings,” said Sam Wass of the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development at Birkbeck, University of London. “The connection is an intuitively obvious one: the better a child is at concentrating on one object, such as a book, and ignoring distractions, for instance people moving around a room, the better that child is going to learn. We show that attentional control abilities can be trained at a much earlier age than had previously been thought possible.”

The researchers trained 11-month-old infants to direct their gaze toward images they observed on a computer screen. For example, in one task, a butterfly flew only as long as the babies kept their eyes on it while other distracting elements appeared on screen. Infants visited the lab five times over the course of 15 days. Half of the 42 babies took part in training, while the other half watched TV. Each child was tested for cognitive abilities at the beginning and end of the study.

Trained infants rapidly improved their ability to focus their attention for longer periods and to shift their attention from one point to another. They also showed improvements in their ability to spot patterns and small but significant changes in their spontaneous looking behavior while playing with toys.

“Our results appeared to show an improved ability to alter the frequency of eye movements in response to context,” Wass said. “In the real world, sometimes we want to be able to focus on one object of interest and ignore distractions, and sometimes we want to be able to shift the focus of our attention rapidly around a room—for example, for language learning in social situations. This flexibility in the allocation of attention appeared to improve after training.”

The fact that the babies’ improvements in concentration transferred to a range of tasks supports the notion that there is greater plasticity in the unspecialized infant brain." - (Sept 2011)

"Research Finds Puzzle Games Improve 'Working Memory' " -  Game Politics (June 2011)  and  eMedicine Health (June 2011)

"This time, a new study suggests that kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have shown symptom relief after engaging in a five-week working memory-training program revolving around “game-like” software." - OSU Research News (Jan 2011)  and  Techland (Jan 2011)  and  GamePolitics (Jan 2011)

"The efficacy of working memory training in improving crystallized intelligence" - Nature Proceedings (Sept 2009)

"Allow a laboratory mouse to run as much as it likes, and its brainpower improves. Force it to run harder than it otherwise might, and its thinking improves even more." - New York Times Blogs (Sept 2009)

"Playing a Memory Game to Improve Intelligence and Increase Your IQ Score?" -  Inhuman Experiment (Jan 2009)

Working Memory and Fluid Intelligence

"Fluid intelligence (Gf) refers to the ability to reason and to solve new problems independently of previously acquired knowledge... Here, we present evidence for transfer from training on a demanding working memory task to measures of Gf. This transfer results even though the trained task is entirely different from the intelligence test itself. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the extent of gain in intelligence critically depends on the amount of training: the more training, the more improvement in Gf. That is, the training effect is dosage-dependent." - (Feb 2008)

Gamma Brainwaves & Working Memory

"Working memory is the ability to actively hold information in the mind. Recent results demonstrate that working memory is organized by oscillatory processes in the theta and gamma frequency range." - Current Biology (June 2010)

"Studies of working memory load effects on human EEG power have indicated divergent effects in different frequency bands. Although gamma power typically increases with load, the load dependency of the lower frequency theta and alpha bands is uncertain." -  Cerebral Cortex (2008)

"Maintenance of an increasing number of items elicited an incrementally negative shift of the DC potential and an increase in MTL gamma-band activity." - Journal of Neuroscience (July 2007)

"We analyzed intracranial recordings from two epileptic patients as they performed a working memory task. Spectral analyses revealed that, in both patients, gamma (30–60 Hz) oscillations increased approximately linearly with memory load, tracking closely with memory load over the course of the trial. This constitutes the first evidence that gamma oscillations, widely implicated in perceptual processes, support the maintenance of multiple items in working memory." -  Cerebral Cortex (2003) 

Working Memory and Mindfulness

"New research finds that mindfulness training leads to improved scores in tests of reading comprehension and working memory." - Alternet (April 2013)  and  The New York Times (April 2013)

Working Memory and Prefrontal Cortex

"The forward-most region of the frontal lobe, known as the prefrontal cortex, has special importance across the range of mental activities measured by intelligence tests. So important is the prefrontal cortex that, in some studies, it is the single brain area consistently activated by a broad array of intelligence tests. If we had to name the anatomical epicenter of intelligence, it would be the prefrontal cortex. Phylogenetically, it was one of most recent evolutionary developments in humans and apes. The prefrontal cortex has distinct developmental qualities that align with its role in regulating complex thought. Its primary role is to control attention and resist distraction, both key features of working memory and absolutely vital to intelligent behavior. The prefrontal cortex develops slowly in comparison to other brain regions and shows a surprising degree of plasticity in response to experience. It is one of the last areas of the brain to mature completely, with synapse formation and restructuring extending far past childhood into early adulthood. The protracted period of synaptic structuring and restructuring is use-dependent, implying that it is specially attuned to higher-order cognitive demands." - (July 2013)

Working Memory and Attention

"Fundamental Components of Attention  A mechanistic understanding of attention is necessary for the elucidation of the neurobiological basis of conscious experience. This chapter presents a framework for thinking about attention that facilitates the analysis of this cognitive process in terms of underlying neural mechanisms. Four processes are fundamental to attention: working memory, top-down sensitivity control, competitive selection, and automatic bottom-up filtering for salient stimuli. Each process makes a distinct and essential contribution to attention. Voluntary control of attention involves the first three processes (working memory, top-down sensitivity control, and competitive selection) operating in a recurrent loop. Recent results from neurobiological research on attention are discussed within this framework." - Annual Review of Neuroscience (July 2007)

Working Memory and Serotonin

"Low-serotonin activity can lead to impulsivity, aggression, addictive behaviors, and depression. Of course, since you have "free will" (let's not argue about this now), you can always make the "right" decision, even if it is the difficult one; it's just that serotonin makes it feel more possible. Essentially that is what antidepressant medications do: they don't make you happier directly; they just boost serotonin, which increases your willpower." - Psychology Today (Oct 2011)

"Relations between serotonin genotype, working memory, and set shifting" - Digital Commons (March 2007)

Working Memory and Assorted

"The wave, feedback from the prefrontal cortex, suggests that the image is stored briefly in the baby's temporary "working memory." And consciousness, Kouider says, is composed of working memory." - Huffington Post (April 2013)