Publication: Sharp Brains
Published: September 25th, 2006
By: Alvaro Fernandez
Wikipedia says “Recent studies suggest that Working Memory can be improved by working memory training (Klingberg et al., 2002)…Perhaps of greater importance, another study has found after a period of working memory training an increase in a range of cognitive abilities and an increase in IQ test scores of approximately 8%.”
A search for “Torkel Klingberg” in PubMed returns 26 papers published in peer-reviewed publications such as the Journal of the American Acadademy of Children and Adolescent Psychiatry, the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience and Nature Neuroscience. We are happy to launch our Neuroscientist Interview Series with an interview with Dr. Torkel Klingberg.
Alvaro Fernandez (AF): Welcome. Can you let us know where you work, and what your Lab does?
Dr. Torkel Klingberg (TK): I have a professorship at Karolinska Institute, and lead the Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience Lab, part of the Stockholm Brain Institute. The lab is addressing the questions of development and plasticity of working memory. We do that through several techniques, such as fMRI, diffusion tensor imaging to look at myelination of white matter in the brain, neural network models of working memory and behavioral studies. In addition, I am a scientific advisor for Cogmed, the company that developed and commercializes RoboMemo.
AF: What studies have you published so far? What studies are in the pipeline, and will be published soon?
TK: You can find a complete list, and the studies themselves, at the lab homepage. Among our studies are three studies on the effect of working memory training: Klingberg et al. 2002, 2005 and Olesen et al. 2004. We have recently submitted two papers on the effect of training in combination with medication, and the effect of training on school performance.
AF: What are the highlights of your research so far?
TK: Our paper from 2004 in Nature Neuroscience, on the effect of working memory training on brain activity, and the 2005 randomized, controlled clinical trial that showed the impact of working memory training specifically in kids with ADD/ ADHD, have caught most public attention, including references in Scientific American. My other research concerns the neural basis for development and plasticity of cognitive functions during childhood, in particular development of attention and working memory. In short, I’d say that we have shown that working memory can be improved by training and that such training helps people with attention deficits and it also improves reasoning ability overall.
AF: What are the effects in every-day life for a child with attention deficits?
TK: When looking at the 1,200 children who have trained in Cogmed’s Stockholm Clinic since start, the most common effects are sustained attention, better impulse control and improved learning ability. Parents often report that their children perform better in school and are able to keep up a coherent conversation more easily after training. Being able to hold back impulses, such as anger outbursts, and keeping better track of one’s things are other every-day life benefits.
AF: How are you making the program available?
TK: All rights are with Cogmed, who is making this available in Sweden and starting to offer this to selected clinics in the US this year. The program is called Cogmed Working Memory Training, or RoboMemo.
AF: What do you expect that we will learn over the next 5 years in the field of Brain Fitness Programs and cognitive training?
TK: I think that we are seeing the beginning of a new era of computerized training for a wide range of applications. Our studies has mostly been aimed at individuals with marked problems of inattention, but there is a wider zone concerning what you define as attention problems, and we will see how RoboMemo can help a larger part of the population in improving cognitive function.
AF: What will you talk about at CHADD?
TK: I will present the data from our published studies on ADHD, as well as some new data from independent researchers in US universities that confirm our findings concerning the effect of working memory training.
AF: You are writing a book, correct? what is it about?
TK: The book is a popular science book about working memory, in the lab and in daily life. It will be out in March in Sweden and we are currently looking for a US publisher.
AF: Dr. Klingberg, thanks for your time.
TK: My pleasure.