Working memory training revisited: A multi-level meta-analysis of n-back training studies.

Research paper by Anna A Soveri, Jan J Antfolk, Linda L Karlsson, Benny B Salo, Matti M Laine

Indexed on: 25 Jan '17Published on: 25 Jan '17Published in: Psychonomic Bulletin & Review


The efficacy of working memory (WM) training has been a controversial and hotly debated issue during the past years. Despite a large number of training studies and several meta-analyses, the matter has not yet been solved. We conducted a multi-level meta-analysis on the cognitive transfer effects in healthy adults who have been administered WM updating training with n-back tasks, the most common experimental WM training paradigm. Thanks to this methodological approach that has not been employed in previous meta-analyses in this field, we were able to include effect sizes from all relevant tasks used in the original studies. Altogether 203 effect sizes were derived from 33 published, randomized, controlled trials. In contrast to earlier meta-analyses, we separated task-specific transfer (here untrained n-back tasks) from other WM transfer tasks. Two additional cognitive domains of transfer that we analyzed consisted of fluid intelligence (Gf) and cognitive control tasks. A medium-sized transfer effect was observed to untrained n-back tasks. For other WM tasks, Gf, and cognitive control, the effect sizes were of similar size and very small. Moderator analyses showed no effects of age, training dose, training type (single vs. dual), or WM and Gf transfer task contents (verbal vs. visuospatial). We conclude that a substantial part of transfer following WM training with the n-back task is task-specific and discuss the implications of the results to WM training research.