Is working memory training effective? A meta-analytic review

Article Summarized: Is working memory training effective? A meta-analytic review

Journal: Developmental Psychology, May 21, 2012

Authors: Monica Melby-Lervåg & Charles Hulme

Design: Meta-analysis (statistical technique for combining the findings from independent studies)

Study Inclusion Criteria:

1. Use of a working memory intervention (including strategy training, simple & complex span training, single or dual n-back training)
2. Pre-test/post-test design
3. Treated or untreated control groups
4. Randomized or non-randomized group assignment
5. Use of one or more standardized tests of nonverbal ability, verbal ability, attention, decoding, or arithmetic

Moderator Variables:

1. Age: young children (≤10 years old), older children (11-18 years old), young adults (18–50 years old), older adults (51≥ years old)
2. Training dose: duration of training, ≤ 8 hours or 9 ≥ hours
3. Design: randomized or non-randomized
4. Learner status: sampled from learning disorder group or not selected
5. Intervention: “Characteristics concerning the training and intervention programs were coded.”

Sample: 23 studies (30 group comparisons)

DomainN: Total SampleAverage Effect Size (d): Total SampleN: Cogmed SampleAverage Effect Size (d): Cogmed Sample
Verbal WM210.7941.18
Verbal WM (follow-up)60.310n/a
Visuo-spatial WM180.5280.86
Visuo-spatial WM (follow-up)40.4110.81
Nonverbal ability220.1980.41
Nonverbal ability (follow-up)6*0.0610.05
Verbal ability80.1310.29
Inhibitory /Attention100.3250.35
Inhibitory /Attention (follow-up)4*0.0910.10
Word Decoding70.1310.09
Word Decoding (follow-up)3*0.130n/a
Arithmetic (follow-up)3*0.180n/a

* Studies used for analysis not explicitly stated in text

Article Conclusion: WM training programs show only near-transfer effects. There is no convincing evidence that the near-effects are durable. Absence of far-transfer shows that there is no evidence that WM training programs are suitable methods of treatment for children with developmental cognitive disorders or as means to effect general improvements in adults’ or childrens’ cognitive skills or scholastic attainments.

For a meta-analysis of solely Cogmed Working Memory Training studies, click here.