Memory game (credit: Tilanus/Wikimedia Commons)
The cornerstone brain-training exercise in this field has been the “n-back” task, a challenging working memory task that requires an individual to mentally juggle several items simultaneously. Participants must remember both the recent stimuli and an increasing number of previous stimuli. These tasks can be adapted to also include an audio component or to remember more than one trait about the stimuli over time — for example, both the color and location of a shape.
Through a number of experiments over the past decade, Susanne Jaeggi of the University of Maryland, College Park, and others have found that participants who train with n-back tasks over the course of approximately a month for about 20 minutes per day get better at the n-back task itself, but also experience “transfer” to other cognitive tasks on which they did not train.