Our mental abilities or cognitive skills can be divided into Lower-Order Cognitive Skills (LOCS) and Higher-Order Cognitive Skills (HOCS). LOCS include memorization of content for simple recall – like remembering facts for a history exam. HOCS involves higher level skills such as application of knowledge in new situations, flexible problem solving, critical thinking, decision making, comprehension, creativity, and the self-management of one’s own thoughts and behaviors to be a better learner – more skilled, more flexible, and better adapted.
Working memory is necessary for staying focused on a task, blocking out distractions,  keeping you updated and aware of what is going on in this process, and applying relevant cognitive strategies to process the information. Working memory can be defined in everyday language as a set of skills that helps us keep information in mind while using that information to complete a task or execute a challenge.
Limited capacity system that includes a short-term storage of information and the functions of updating and manipulating the storage contents. A child uses WM when doing math calculations, listening to a story or making something (Figure 2). The visuospatial sketchpad is a short term memory store or ‘buffer’ for just visual and spatial information. While these systems store information in specific modalities, the episodic buffer is a short term store for ‘multi-modal’ information.
The central executive is a goal focused system for selecting, controlling and coordinating the information in the three short term buffers for comprehension, problem solving, decision making, etc. The central executive of WM involves both the pre-frontal cortex and parietal cortex – in the so-called ‘fronto-parietal axis’ as shown in Figure 4. Unlike Baddeley’s model, which is concerned with modularity and components of the working memory, Cowan offered a view oriented mostly on underlying cognitive processes.
The attentional ‘filter’ of our central executive is capacity limited, typically processing at any one time around 3-4 items of information from the short term buffers. WM makes information available for more advanced cognitive processing, WM capacity represents one of the main rate limiting factors for higher-order cognitive functions such as reasoning and decision making.
There is also a normal decline in WM capacity with aging, starting around 25-30 years of age, with a decline of about 5-10% per decade. Sustained attention (without mind wandering) during challenging tasks in daily life (McVay & Kane, 2009). Skill learning is defined as an improvement in attention, perception, cognition or motor skills as a result of training and that persists for several weeks or months. The narrowness (specificity) of the benefits of many classical studies of skill learning have led many to conclude that the benefits of practice on a given task are domain specific –  enhancing performance only in the trained task and a small set of closely related tasks that involve the same type of material.
Many recent studies have now shown that brain training can improve one domain-general ability – working memory and its capacity. The results of individual studies encourage optimism regarding the value of WM training as a tool for general cognitive enhancement. Most of the studies that address the issue of whether working memory training improves intelligence use a standard dual n-back working memory training task, and use matrices fluid intelligence tests to measure general intelligence (g).
In an influential theoretical paper in the field of psychometric IQ testing using factor-analytic approaches, Kevin S. It’s clear that the construct of IQ embraces more than what is measured by matrices tests, and that it includes working memory.
The most recently published meta-analysis of the working memory training literature by Schwaighofer and colleagues’ (2015) summarizes the training gains in the following table. To convert these effect sizes (both short term and long term) to standardized scores such as points in an IQ test, multiply them by 15 – one standard deviation. Training duration most likely makes a difference: the more you training, the greater the gains. A recent meta-analysis by Karbach and Verhaeghen (Nov 2014) examined the effects of working memory and executive control training (49 studies) in both younger adults and 60+ year olds for a number of general cognitive abilities including attention control, IQ (fluid intelligence), episodic memory (memory for personal experiences), short term and working memory, and processing speed. The latest meta-review of verbal and visuo-spatial short term memory and verbal and visuo-spatial working memory (Schwaighofer et al., 2015) shows there are both short term (within a few days of training) and long-term (6-12 month follow up) training effects, and these effects are considerable (see table below). Melby-Lervag and Hulme’s 2013 meta-analysis, also concluded that working memory training resulted in visuo-spatial and verbal working memory gains.
Effect sizes reported by individual studies for visuo-spatial working memory, with short-term gains on the left and long term (up to 1 year) on the right, is shown in this plot.
Effect sizes reported by individual studies for verbal working memory, with short-term gains on the left and long term (up to 1 year) on the right, is shown in this plot. The controversy surrounding studies looking at the effects of working memory training (e.g.
It is the case that many of these studies are underpowered, but the Au et al (2015) estimates are still the best available. We can reasonably conclude from these meta-analyses that Gf gains from training are real – for both younger and older adults. The conclusion of this meta-analysis has been challenged by Melby-Lervag and Hulme in a reanalysis of the data. We demonstrate that there is in fact no evidence that the type of control group per se moderates the effects of working memory training on measures of fluid intelligence and reaffirm the original conclusions in Au et al., which are robust to multiple methods of calculating effect size, including the one proposed by Melby-Lervag and Hulme.
Second, cultural differences may be largely driving the hypothesized active vs passive difference.
Dougherty and colleagues argue that what is explanatory here is the active vs passive control contrast – not the cultural contrast. There is evidence that in the US particularly  over the last 25 years the difference in effectiveness between real drugs and placebo ones has narrowed considerably, suggesting that Americans are particularly susceptible to the placebo effect more generally (5, 6). There are now many neuroimaging studies showing consistent fronto-parietal network (FPN) neuroplasticity effects from working memory (e.g.
Impaired performance on these measures in the WAIS-IV and Delis-Kaplan Executive Function test were associated with damage to a distributed network of left lateralized brain areas, including regions of frontal and parietal cortex and white matter association tracts, which bind these areas into a coordinated system. Kundu and colleagues (2015) have recently proposed that the transfer of WM training to other cognitive abilities is supported by changes in connectivity in frontoparietal and parieto-occipital networks – active in  both the trained and transfer tasks. And in their recent paper Task complexity and location specific changes of cortical thickness in executive and salience networks after working memory training, Metzler-Baddeley and colleagues (2016) found that working memory training resulted in increases of cortical thickness in right parieto-frontal cortex. There is an important overlap in brain circuitry between interference control, working memory capacity and IQ (Gf). Working memory training games that incorporate systematic interference control and distraction shielding may be expected to enhance IQ gains.
This brief review of the 2014-2015 scientific meta-analysis literature supports the conclusion that working memory and executive control training  increases general cognitive performance – whether IQ (verbal or non-verbal ability), short-term memory or working memory. Based on the available evidence, we can conclude that there are not sufficient grounds to discredit the claim that working memory training is an effective and efficient strategy for improving IQ. For those of you without training in experimental design, here are some useful definitions that will equip you to understood some of the more technical content of this review, and help you evaluate it for yourself.
Peer-reviewed journal articles.  These are published articles of randomized control trials (studies) on brain training that have been submitted to the scrutiny of experts in the same field, and judged to acceptable for publication.
Meta-analyses systematically assess all peer-reviewed studies meeting adequate standards of experimental design and relevance criteria for a particular type of brain training.
The effect size is a measure of the magnitude of the outcome difference between the two groups, which can be measured in standardized scores. My own working memory and executive functioning brain training software implements a combination of working memory training (e.g. The recent interest in how brain function affects learning has brought into focus the role of working memory, attention and executive function.
Working memory consists of the brain processes used for temporary storage and manipulation of information.
The majority of studies on math disabilities suggest that children with a math disability have memory deficits.
Performance on simple arithmetic depends on speedy and efficient retrieval from long-term memory. Temporary storage of numbers when attempting to find the answer to a mathematical problem is crucial. Poor recall of facts leads to difficulties executing calculation procedures and immature problem-solving strategies.
Research also shows that math disabilities are frequently co-morbid with reading disabilities (Swanson, 2006). Inattention is most commonly associated with ADHD, but it is present in many brain disorders.
Inattention has three cognitive aspects that are determined by three neural networks, which are anatomically and cognitively separate. Critical for optimal performance, the alerting network prepares an individual for perceiving and receiving new stimuli.

March 21, 2014 by Shen-Li Working memory has been a subject of intense interest in recent times because of it’s link to fluid intelligence but as promising as the research has been on enhancing cognitive function with brain training, there are still questions abound about how useful this training actually is.
Working Memory training can lead to improvements in cognitive control, as measured in the Stroop task. Preventing Drug Use in ChildrenReview: Trinity San Yu (Mandarin Program)Guest Post: Do regular reading habits feed children’s brain development? Exploring the infinite potential of the mind - what are we born with and what are we really capable of?
Dr Shen-Li Lee is a freelance writer and mum to two boys who have been the inspiration for her ongoing study in child development and education. The  consistency of an individual’s IQ scores over time has been interpreted as showing that IQ is mostly genetically determined. But growing evidence shows that intelligence can change over time as a function of a person’s learning and life experiences (for reviews, see Flynn, 2000; Nisbett, 2009). Here we look at the most effective IQ-increasing interventions that have a firm scientific basis – a basis in experimental laboratories and the exacting standards of peer reviewed scientific journals.
Far-reaching advances in cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience over the past decade have identified a close link between frontal lobe ‘working memory’ circuitry, and fronto-parietal problem solving, self-control and fluid reasoning circuitry. Software has now been developed for selectively targeting working memory circuitry, resulting in long term neuroplasticity changes increasing short term memory capacity, problem solving ability, self-control and overall IQ.
In choosing an n-back working memory training application, ensure that you have a version and training program that has been demonstrated to increase IQ in a peer reviewed scientific study. Two other established methods for increasing IQ are using nootropics, and cortical stimulation (e.g.
Your browser is an eight year old browser which does not display modern web sites properly. There has been a lot of interest in the past decade about the potential to train working memory capacity to improve overall cognitive performance. LOCS also include the kind of attention-improving skills that video games may improve with practice.
With the rapid pace of technological and cultural change on a global scale, and the challenges of adapting to this change, student and citizens need to go beyond the building of their knowledge capacity: they need to develop their higher-order thinking skills.
It can be considered as the main control centre of human cognition generally, as illustrated in this BrainScanr graph (Figure 1). When you comprehend someone’s explanation, make a mental calculation, make a decision or execute a plan you have to hold information into a ‘mental workspace’ long enough to integrate and process it. She has to hold onto the numbers while working with them, she needs to remember the sequence of events and also think of what the story is about, and she needs to hold in mind a plan to enact.
There is also a super-system called ‘central executive’ that controls the flow of information into these other systems, filtering out what is unimportant, allowing for higher order processing of the information through reasoning, decision-making, planning and comprehension. Information currently active in this WM store is also linked to our ‘visual semantics’ in long-term memory.
It is essentially an attentional control mechanism, allowing us to focus attention on task-relevant information and ignore distractions. According to his model, the central executive acts as a selective attentional filter to activate task-relevant representations from long-term memory (Figure 5). Individuals differ in the size of their WM capacity, and because of this, they differ in their capacity to reason, make decisions, plan and comprehend.
Brain training is skill learning for cognitive abilities resulting in long-term neuroplasticity changes in the brain’s neural networks underlying those abilities.
But in general the effects of brain training are highly specific: improvement is observed only in the trained task, with little or no transfer of learning to untrained tasks.
Domain general capacities underlying wide ranging cognitive abilities – such as general intelligence or working memory needed for HOCS – have traditionally been understood as more or less ‘hard-wired’ by late childhood – and untrainable. This kind of training has benefits that extend well beyond the training tasks to a wide variety of cognitive abilities and HOCS. We’ll see there is strong evidence that dual n-back training improves working memory. These effect sizes are considerable, and include a large IQ (fluid intelligence gain) of ~5.5 IQ points. The net gain in overall cognitive ability after (on average) 9 hours of working memory and executive function training is similar in size to the effect of (on average) about five months of  regular 45-minute sessions aerobic training (review).
Long term visuo-spatial working memory gains from training due to neuroplasticity are 6.5 points. Even at 6-12 month’s after training there is a persisting working memory gain, assessed with standard working memory tests.
And more recently, it is supported by the latest comprehensive 2015 meta-review by Schwaighofer and his colleagues. The active control studies in Europe have fairly high g effect sizes (even if the CI crosses zero), and there are a couple of US studies with passive controls that do not support the null hypothesis. Now in the US even many well-established medical drugs would not pass placebo control trials and this is a major concern for medical research.
What is needed before placebo criticisms can be regarded as a serious challenge is direct evidence for placebo effects in the form of experiments where expectations are systematically varied, or adding a third group to the controlled trial set-up, which takes an existing intervention that is known to work – if both that group and the group given the effective intervention fail to beat the placebo, researchers know that their trial design is flawed. The observed findings support an integrative framework for understanding the architecture of general intelligence and executive function, supporting their reliance upon a shared fronto-parietal network for the integration and control of cognitive representations.
Brain imaging studies reveal that neural mechanisms of interference control underlie the relationship between fluid intelligence and working memory span. There is compelling evidence that distraction suppression (evident in behavior, neuronal firing, scalp electroencephalography, and hemodynamic change) is important for protecting target processing during perception and holding information in working memory. This training benefit is mediated in part by neuroplastic changes in the frontoparietal network.
Extended Practice and Aerobic Exercise Interventions Benefit Untrained Cognitive Outcomes in Older Adults: A Meta-Analysis.
One of these interventions is the computerized cognitive training (brain training) program. One of these interventions is the standard of comparison or control. A meta-analysis uses a statistical approach to combine the results from multiple trials to improve estimates of the size of the effect and resolve uncertainty when reports disagree – for example when one study concludes there is an effect and another study does not. In addition, memory training tasks appear to have limited effect on healthy adults and children looking to do better in school or improve their cognitive skills. These three cognitive functions are interwoven in a complex system of neural networks, and they are crucial to the learning process. It operates over only a few seconds, and it allows us to focus our attention, resist distractions, and guide our decision-making. If the ability to use working memory resources is compromised, then problem solving is extremely difficult. Students with co-occurring math and reading disabilities fall further behind in math achievement than those with only a math disability. Inattentive behavior predicts a poor response to reading instruction, as well as math achievement. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Grant No. There is so much we don’t fully understand but even at this early juncture, the research findings are promising.
She searches for the balance in child development methods and educational philosophies that will encourage the nurture of happy, confident and successful children. The methods described or linked to below are part of the accumulated understanding of the scientific community about what can increase IQ – not just temporarily but long-term. Our working memory is used for holding information in mind (images, concepts, language, numbers) for brief periods while engaging in active, goal-focused thinking or comprehension, while screening out distracting information. Our lab suggests that interference control (screening out irrelevant stimuli that attracts your attention) is critical to effective IQ transfer with dual n-back training, and many n-back games do not incorporate interference control as a feature.
LOCS includes any cognitive skills with specific applications that do not require much understanding, evaluation, or problem solving flexibility. And you need to selectively attend to what is important and what is merely distracting to perform the task at hand. This is what we know about visual and spatial information in the world, such as directions to work or the layout of the rooms in our home.
In the diagram above, the box diagram would be stored in the visuo-spatial buffer, and the names for the different subsystems would be stored in the phonological loop. An example of integrated information that may be held in the episodic buffer is the full diagram of working memory above, where the different names are organized in a visuo-spatial flow diagram. Fluid intelligence is involved in reasoning and when complex relationships have to be perceived and used to find solutions for new problems.

In a famous example, Ericsson and Chase (1982) showed a student who did cognitive trained for many hours of practice on a short term number memorization task could successfully recall over 80 randomly ordered digits.  But the student was limited to a short term memory of just 7 items when the content to be remembered was not numerical. The mind’s workspace can be expanded with training, and the effects are long-lasting (review, Chein & Morrison, 2010). The task exercises a number of executive processes including attentional selection, updating, and multi-tasking. There’s also evidence (although less conclusive) that dual n-back training improves fluid intelligence (Gf) measured by matrices tests.
This demonstrates long-term neuroplasticity change,  and this is consistent with the brain science literature (below).
Even the fluid intelligence (Gf) gain skeptics Melby-Lervag and Hulme in their 2013 meta-analysis concluded that working memory training resulted in visuo-spatial and verbal working memory gains. They found there were significant increases in IQ measured by both non-verbal and verbal ability after training, regardless of control group.
This framework evaluates the relative strength of the evidence for the alternative versus null hypotheses, contingent on the type of control condition used.
These results provide insight into the adaptive neural systems that underlie large gains in working memory capacity through training.
Making working memory work: A meta-analysis of executive-control and working memory training in older adults. An Empirical Comparison of the Therapeutic Benefits of Physical Exercise and Cognitive Training on the Executive Functions of Older Adults: A Meta-Analysis of Controlled Trials.
Fluid Intelligence Allows Flexible Recruitment of the Parieto-Frontal Network in Analogical Reasoning. It can also correct for publication bias – the tendency to only publish reports when there is a positive result. Expanding the mind’s workspace: Training and transfer effects with a complex working memory span task.
On the capacity of attention: its estimation and its role in working memory and cognitive aptitudes. Working memory capacity affects the interference control of distractors at auditory gating. Strong working memory results in functional attention networks and good executive function, all of which correlate strongly with academic achievement (Tannock, 2008). Low working memory is a barrier to both the efficiency and learning of both calculation and higher level problem solving. However, research shows that the most common deficit among all students with a math disability, with or without a co-occurring reading disability, is their difficulty in performing on working memory tasks.
Inattention is a risk factor for poor math achievement, and low working memory is a causative factor. Start-up Session - Before beginning Cogmed Working Memory Training, we will have a one-hour meeting during which pre-testing will be done (brief measures of working memory plus questionnaires on general functioning). That, I believe, warrants further investigation on how we can better train ourselves to become smarter. Improve problem solving and decision making skills for cognitive performance & brain health. Herrnstein and Charles Murray, made waves by arguing that intelligence is a singular, definable, measurable quantity that is highly heritable.
This evidence is supported by research on frontal cortex neuroplasticity showing that the brain is highly plastic and changeable in its information processing circuitry. Cognitive-enhancing nutrition, fasting, exercise and meditation is not covered in this review, which focuses on the use of intervention technologies. Working memory has a limited capacity, and the bigger that capacity the more the cognitive ‘RAM’ power a person has for processing information – to make connections, generate alternatives, and grasp relationships. Improving Fluid Intelligence with Training on Working Memory, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 105: 6829–6833. Changes in Cortical Dopamine D1 Receptor Binding Associated with Cognitive Training, Science, 6, 323, 800 – 802. They are an important to all successful, adaptive behaviour in everyday life as well as educational and professional life. What is in our long-term memory is outside of our WM system, but the contents of our long term memory are activated by information in WM. A computer’s RAM enables temporary storage and working space for the operating system and applications, The larger the RAM capacity, the more working space it has to process information.
Core WM training thus represents a favourable approach to achieve broad cognitive enhancement. It is also adaptive, increasing in difficulty (the n-back interval) as skill in the task improves, ensuring that task performance doesn’t become automatized. In this study they found that these IQ gains did not last without further training when measured between 6 and 12 months later. An integrative architecture for general intelligence and executive function revealed by lesion mapping.
Evidence for substantially underpowered designs in studies of working memory training transfer to fluid intelligence. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 105(19), 6829-6833.
Task complexity and location specific changes of cortical thickness in executive and salience networks after working memory training.NeuroImage. CHC theory and the human cognitive abilities project: Standing on the shoulders of the giants of psychometric intelligence research. A meta-analysis, compared to a single peer-reviewed journal article, enables us to draw much stronger conclusions about the effectiveness of brain training interventions.
This can be found at this website. I am happy to provide this software free of charge for any research or education related projects.
Below is a brief explanation of these three cognitive processes and their effect on mathematical learning. The most current research on working memory describes it as a passive store component, plus attentional control.
Despite the attention given to students with hyperactivity and conduct problems in the classroom, those students have more academic success than students who are poor attenders.
Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. The Cogmed program will be explained and demonstrated, and coaching calls will be scheduled.
In Dual N-back training, a verbal and a visuo-spatial stream of items is presented simultaneously and item matches have to be detected for both modalities (Figure 6).
But in the short term there was a real IQ gain from training, and we can assume these gains could be maintained or improved with continued training. Computerized Training of Working Memory in Children With ADHD-A Randomized, Controlled Trial.
Conducting the train of thought: Working memory capacity, goal neglect, and mind wandering in an executive-control task. This dual task requires updating items in both the visuospatial sketchpad and the phonological loop WM buffers described above. Training - Individuals are asked to do Cogmed Working Memory Training four to five times per week for five to six weeks. Intensive Working Memory Training Produces Functional Changes in Large-scale Frontoparietal Networks.Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 1–14.
Working memory, short-term memory, and general fluid intelligence: A latent-variable approach.
The Generality of Working Memory Capacity: A Latent-Variable Approach to Verbal and Visuospatial Memory Span and Reasoning.
Sessions should be done in a quiet environment without interruption, although breaks can be taken.
Wrap-up Session - Approximately one month after training is done, a follow-up session will be held to do post-testing and summarize training results. Extension Training- All Cogmed users are entitled to one year of mini-training sessions following the five-week training period. Although results will still be posted online, there is no formal coaching for extension sessions.

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