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Psychon Bull Rev. 2013 Feb;20(1):135-41. doi: 10.3758/s13423-012-0335-6.

Dual n-back training increases the capacity of the focus of attention.

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Psychology Department, Washington University in St. Louis, 1 Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO 63130, USA.


Working memory (WM) training has been reported to benefit abilities as diverse as fluid intelligence (Jaeggi et al., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 105:6829-6833, 2008) and reading comprehension (Chein & Morrison, Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 17:193-199, 2010), but transfer is not always observed (for reviews, see Morrison & Chein, Psychonomics Bulletin & Review, 18:46-60, 2011; Shipstead et al., Psychological Bulletin, 138:628-654, 2012). In contrast, recent WM training studies have consistently reported improvement on the trained tasks. The basis for these training benefits has received little attention, however, and it is not known which WM components and/or processes are being improved. Therefore, the goal of the present study was to investigate five possible mechanisms underlying the effects of adaptive dual n-back training on working memory (i.e., improvements in executive attention, updating, and focus switching, as well as increases in the capacity of the focus of attention and short-term memory). In addition to a no-contact control group, the present study also included an active control group whose members received nonadaptive training on the same task. All three groups showed significant improvements on the n-back task from pretest to posttest, but adaptive training produced larger improvements than did nonadaptive training, which in turn produced larger improvements than simply retesting. Adaptive, but not nonadaptive, training also resulted in improvements on an untrained running span task that measured the capacity of the focus of attention. No other differential improvements were observed, suggesting that increases in the capacity of the focus of attention underlie the benefits of adaptive dual n-back training.

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