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Restor Neurol Neurosci. 2009;27(5):405-19. doi: 10.3233/RNN-2009-0492.

Training of the executive component of working memory: subcortical areas mediate transfer effects.

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Department of Integrative Medical Biology, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden.



Several recent studies show that training can improve working memory (WM) performance. In this review, many issues related to WM training, such as neural basis, transfer effects, and age-related changes are addressed.


We focus on our own studies investigating training on tasks taxing the executive updating function and discuss our findings in relation to results from other studies investigating training of the executive component of WM.


The review confirms positive behavioral effects of training on working memory. The most common neural pattern following training is fronto-parietal activity decreases. Increases in sub-cortical areas are also frequently reported after training, and we suggest that such increases indicate changes in the underlying skill following training. Transfer effects are in general difficult to demonstrate. Some studies show that older adults increase their performance after WM training. However, transfer effects are small or nonexistent in old age.


The main finding in this review is that sub-cortical areas seem to have a critical role in mediating transfer effects to untrained tasks after at least some forms of working memory training (such as updating).

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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