A study published in the journal Memory and Cognition suggests that working memory training (the kind offered by brain training software) may actually harm some kinds of memory performance. Here is the abstract:
There is a great deal of debate concerning the benefits of working memory (WM) training and whether that training can transfer to other tasks. Although a consistent finding is that WM training programs elicit a short-term near-transfer effect (i.e., improvement in WM skills), results are inconsistent when considering persistence of such improvement and far transfer effects. In this study, we compared three groups of participants: a group that received WM training, a group that received training on how to use a mental imagery memory strategy, and a control group that received no training. Although the WM training group improved on the trained task, their posttraining performance on nontrained WM tasks did not differ from that of the other two groups. In addition, although the imagery training group’s performance on a recognition memory task increased after training, the WM training group’s performance on the task decreased after training. Participants’ descriptions of the strategies they used to remember the studied items indicated that WM training may lead people to adopt memory strategies that are less effective for other types of memory tasks. These results indicate that WM training may have unintended consequences for other types of memory performance.
I am intrigued by the finding that the mental imagery memory strategy had positive effects. Unfortunately, my university library has a one year delay before making full text articles from this journal available. Thus, I don’t have any description of the mental imagery memory strategy. Nor am I able to judge the quality of the study.
Regular readers will know that I am skeptical of the benefits of brain training software. But until now, there was no evidence to suggest any harm from this approach. For the time being, we should wait until we have all the evidence and the findings have been replicated.