Working Memory Training in Typically Developing Children: A Meta-Analysis of the Available Evidence

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Abstract

The putative effectiveness of working memory (WM) training at enhancing cognitive and academic skills is still ardently debated. Several researchers have claimed that WM training fosters not only skills such as visuospatial WM and short-term memory (STM), but also abilities outside the domain of WM, such as fluid intelligence and mathematics. Other researchers, while acknowledging the positive effect of WM training on WM-related cognitive skills, are much more pessimistic about the ability of WM training to improve other cognitive and academic skills. In other words, the idea that far-transfer—that is, the generalization of a set of skills across two domains only loosely related to each other—may take place in WM training is still controversial. In this meta-analysis, the authors focused on the effects of WM training on cognitive and academic skills (e.g., fluid intelligence, attention/inhibition, mathematics, and literacy) in typically developing (TD) children (aged 3 to 16). Whereas WM training exerted a significant effect on cognitive skills related to WM training (g = 0.46), little evidence was found regarding far-transfer effects (g = 0.12). Moreover, the size of the effects was inversely related to the quality of the design (i.e., random allocation to the groups and presence of an active control group). Results suggest that WM training is ineffective at enhancing TD children’s cognitive or academic skills and that, when positive effects are observed, they are modest at best. Thus, in line with other types of training, far-transfer rarely occurs and its effects are minimal.

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