Memory training unlikely to help in treating ADHD, boosting IQ

May 31, 2012

Working memory training is unlikely to be an effective treatment for children suffering from disorders such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity or dyslexia, according to a research analysis published by the American Psychological Association. In addition, memory training tasks appear to have limited effect on healthy adults and children looking to do better in school or improve their cognitive skills.

"The success of working programs is often based on the idea that you can train your brain to perform better, using repetitive memory trials, much like lifting weights builds ," said the study's lead author, Monica Melby-Lervåg, PhD, of the University of Oslo. "However, this analysis shows that simply loading up the brain with training exercises will not lead to better performance outside of the tasks presented within these tests." The article was published online in Developmental Psychology.

enables people to complete tasks at hand by allowing the to retain pertinent information temporarily. Working memory enhancing tasks usually involve trying to get people to remember information presented to them while they are performing distracting activities. For example, participants may be presented with a series of numbers one at a time on a computer screen. The computer presents a new digit and then prompts participants to recall the number immediately preceding. More difficult versions might ask participants to recall what number appeared two, three or four digits ago.

In this meta-analysis, researchers from the University of Oslo and University College London examined 23 peer-reviewed studies with 30 different comparisons of groups that met their criteria. The studies were randomized controlled trials or experiments, had some sort of working memory treatment and a control group. The studies comprised a wide range of participants, including young children, children with cognitive impairments, such as ADHD, and healthy adults. Most of the studies had been published within the last 10 years.

Overall, working memory training improved performance on tasks related to the training itself but did not have an impact on more general cognitive performance such as verbal skills, attention, reading or arithmetic. "In other words, the training may help you improve your short-term memory when it's related to the task implemented in training but it won't improve reading difficulties or help you pay more attention in school," said Melby-Lervåg.

In recent years, several commercial, computer-based working memory training programs have been developed and purport to benefit students suffering from ADHD, , language disorders, poor academic performance or other issues. Some even claim to boost people's IQs. These programs are widely used around the world in schools and clinics, and most involve tasks in which participants are given many memory tests that are designed to be challenging, the study said.

"In the light of such evidence, it seems very difficult to justify the use of working memory training programs in relation to the treatment of reading and language disorders," said Melby-Lervåg. "Our findings also cast strong doubt on claims that working memory training is effective in improving cognitive ability and scholastic attainment."

Explore further: Brain training increases dopamine release

More information: "Is Working Memory Training Effective? A Meta-Analytic Review," Monica Melby-Lervåg, PhD, University of Oslo; Charles Hulme, PhD, University College London and University of Oslo; Developmental Psychology, online.

Related Stories

Brain training increases dopamine release

August 5, 2011
It is known that training can improve working memory. In a new study in Science, researchers from Karolinska Institutet, Umeå University, Åbo Akademi University, and the University of Turku show for the first time ...

Use it or lose it: Mind games help healthy older people too

March 27, 2012
Cognitive training including puzzles, handicrafts and life skills are known to reduce the risk, and help slow down the progress, of dementia amongst the elderly. A new study published in BioMed Central's open access journal ...

Recommended for you

Itsy bitsy spider: Fear of spiders and snakes is deeply embedded in us

October 19, 2017
Snakes and spiders evoke fear and disgust in many people, even in developed countries where hardly anybody comes into contact with them. Until now, there has been debate about whether this aversion is innate or learnt. Scientists ...

Inflamed support cells appear to contribute to some kinds of autism

October 18, 2017
Modeling the interplay between neurons and astrocytes derived from children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Brazil, say innate ...

Study suggests psychedelic drugs could reduce criminal behavior

October 18, 2017
Classic psychedelics such as psilocybin (often called magic mushrooms), LSD and mescaline (found in peyote) are associated with a decreased likelihood of antisocial criminal behavior, according to new research from investigators ...

Taking probiotics may reduce postnatal depression

October 18, 2017
Researchers from the University of Auckland and Otago have found evidence that a probiotic given in pregnancy can help prevent or treat symptoms of postnatal depression and anxiety.

Before assigning responsibility, our minds simulate alternative outcomes, study shows

October 17, 2017
How do people assign a cause to events they witness? Some philosophers have suggested that people determine responsibility for a particular outcome by imagining what would have happened if a suspected cause had not intervened.

Schizophrenia disrupts the brain's entire communication system, researchers say

October 17, 2017
Some 40 years since CT scans first revealed abnormalities in the brains of schizophrenia patients, international scientists say the disorder is a systemic disruption to the brain's entire communication system.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.