A brain-training task that increases the number of items an individual can remember over a short period of time may boost performance in other problem-solving tasks by enhancing communication between different brain areas. The new study being presented this week in San Francisco is one of a growing number of experiments on how working-memory training can measurably improve a range of skills -- from multiplying in your head to reading a complex paragraph.
"Working memory is believed to be a core cognitive function on which many types of high-level cognition rely, including language comprehension and production, problem solving, and decision making," says Brad Postle of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who is co-chairing a session on working-memory training at the Cognitive Neuroscience Society (CNS) annual meeting today in San Francisco. Work by various neuroscientists to document the brain's "plasticity" -- changes brought about by experience -- along with technical advances in using electromagnetic techniques to stimulate the brain and measure changes, have enabled researchers to explore the potential for working-memory training like never before, he says.
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 stimuli before it (e.g., the stimulus "1-back," "2-back," etc). 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.
Via Huey O'Brien, Lynnette Van Dyke