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06-02-2015 | Original Article | Uitgave 1/2016

Psychological Research 1/2016

Working memory training improves visual short-term memory capacity

Psychological Research > Uitgave 1/2016
Hillary Schwarb, Jayde Nail, Eric H. Schumacher


Since antiquity, philosophers, theologians, and scientists have been interested in human memory. However, researchers today are still working to understand the capabilities, boundaries, and architecture. While the storage capabilities of long-term memory are seemingly unlimited (Bahrick, J Exp Psychol 113:1–2, 1984), working memory, or the ability to maintain and manipulate information held in memory, seems to have stringent capacity limits (e.g., Cowan, Behav Brain Sci 24:87–185, 2001). Individual differences, however, do exist and these differences can often predict performance on a wide variety of tasks (cf. Engle What is working-memory capacity? 297–314, 2001). Recently, researchers have promoted the enticing possibility that simple behavioral training can expand the limits of working memory which indeed may also lead to improvements on other cognitive processes as well (cf. Morrison and Chein, Psychol Bull Rev 18:46–60 2011). However, initial investigations across a wide variety of cognitive functions have produced mixed results regarding the transferability of training-related improvements. Across two experiments, the present research focuses on the benefit of working memory training on visual short-term memory capacity—a cognitive process that has received little attention in the training literature. Data reveal training-related improvement of global measures of visual short-term memory as well as of measures of the independent sub-processes that contribute to capacity (Awh et al., Psychol Sci 18(7):622–628, 2007). These results suggest that the ability to inhibit irrelevant information within and between trials is enhanced via n-back training allowing for selective improvement on untrained tasks. Additionally, we highlight a potential limitation of the standard adaptive training procedure and propose a modified design to ensure variability in the training environment.

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