Working Memory Training

Many brain games and cognitive training programs claim to help you improve your working memory. Working memory is the kind of memory you draw on to hold information you’re currently using in your mind.

The theory with working memory training is that because you use working memory for so many different tasks, strengthening your working memory can have a far-reaching impact on your life. For example, some studies have suggested the following possible benefits of working memory training:

  • Making more disciplined dietary choices: One study of 50 overweight people found that working memory training decreased problematic food-related thoughts and emotional eating.
  • Being more attentive in everyday life: Research out of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm suggests that working memory training can reduce inattention across common tasks people perform as part of daily life.
  • Coping with age-related cognitive decline: A recent study found that working memory training paired with neurostimulation may offset some age-related decline in cognitive functions and help older adults perform everyday tasks more efficiently.
  • Being in a better mood: Apparently, working memory training can also make you happy. Research published in 2014 found that working memory training reduced anger, fatigue and depression in participants – and that there were new patterns of brain activity that corresponded to these changes.

So does that mean working memory training is basically just a cure-all?

Not necessarily. The jury’s still out on how significant the benefits are for most people. Some of the questions that remain unanswered are:

  • How long do the bnefits of working memory training last once you stop?
  • How far do the benefits transfer? Does working memory training make you better at everything, or mostly just better at working memory training?
  • Are the benefits large enough to offset the time investment?

The final caveat to keep in mind is that not all working memory training is created equal. Just because one study shows that one kind of working memory training is helpful in a certain situation doesn’t mean other kinds of working memory training will also be helpful. Since a lot of companies have been getting into the brain training market lately, it’s worth remembering that not all software that purports to be “working memory training” is equally effective!

But with these notes of caution in mind, some studies do seem to point to a wide range of possible benefits from certain kinds of working memory training. Additional research should shed more light on these questions in the future – either that, or it’ll just make things even more confusing.

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