Functional brain activation associated with working memory training and transfer

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While behavioural trials of working memory (WM) training have received much attention in recent years, a lesser explored parallel approach is functional neuroimaging. A small literature has suggested a complex time course for functional activation pattern changes following WM training (i.e. not simply increasing or decreasing due to training); however, no study to date has examined such neuroplastic effects in both the training task (dual n-back) and the fluid intelligence transfer task to which the training is purported to transfer (Raven's Matrices). This study investigated neural correlates of WM training in healthy young adults randomized to six weeks of WM training, or an active control condition (processing speed training) with a pre- and post-training fMRI design. Results indicated significant reductions in activation for the WM trained group in key WM-task related areas for trained WM tasks after training compared to the processing speed active control group. The same pattern of training related decreases in activation for the WM trained group was not observed for the transfer task, which is consistent with null results for all cognitive outcomes of the present trial. The observed pattern of results suggests that repetitive practice with a complex task does indeed lead to neuroplastic processes that very likely represent the reduced demand for attentional control while sub-components of the task become more routinized with practice. We suggest that future research investigate neural correlates of WM training in populations for which WM itself is impaired and/or behavioural trials of WM training have returned more promising results

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