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Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2013 Sep;110(39):643-52. doi: 10.3238/arztebl.2013.0643. Epub 2013 Sep 27.

The efficacy of cognitive training programs in children and adolescents: a meta-analysis.

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Clinic of Pediatric Neurology and Social Pediatrics, Children Center Maulbronn.



Cognitive therapies are intended to improve basic cognitive functions, whatever the cause of the deficiency may be. Children and adolescents with various cognitive deficits are treated with behavioral therapeutic and computer-supported training programs. We here report the first meta-analysis of the efficacy of such programs.


We systematically searched the Medline, Embase, PsycINFO, PSYNDEX, and ERIC databases to find pertinent publications for a meta-analysis of cognitive training programs that are used in children and adolescents to improve attention, memory, and executive performance (primary goals) as well as behavior/psychopathology, intelligence, and school performance (secondary goals). The mean differences between the treatment and control groups are given here as standard deviation (SD) scores.


1661 potentially relevant publications were found, including 22 studies that were considered in the meta-analysis, 17 of which were randomized controlled trials. The target variables were measured with more than 90 different testing techniques. The overall effects of cognitive training on attention (SD 0.18, 95% CI -0.11-0.47) and executive function (SD 0.17, 95% CI -0.12-0.46) were consistently small. A relatively strong effect was found on memory performance (0.65 SD, 95% [-0.12-1.42), albeit with marked heterogeneity (I (2)= 82%) owing to two studies. The largest effect was found in the area of behavior and psychopathology (SD 0.58, 95% CI 0.31-0.85), but this last figure is derived mainly from studies that lacked an active control group.


Cognitive therapies for children and adolescents have generally favorable, but probably nonspecific effects on behavior. On the other hand, the specific effects, however, were weak overall. Therapeutic benefit has been demonstrated only for certain individual types of therapy for specific indications.

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