Posts Tagged ‘working-memory training’

Working Memory And The Wandering Mind

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012
working memory and wandering mind

mind wandering

A new study indicates that people with a higher working memory capacity can use that excess capacity to turn their mind to other things.

Published in the journal Psychological Science by Daniel Levinson and Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Jonathan Smallwood at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Science, the study paints working memory as a mental workspace that can house multiple thoughts simultaneously.

Asking participants to perform one of two simple tasks — either pressing a button in response to the appearance of a particular letter on a display, or tapping in time with their breath — the researchers monitored how often the subjects’ minds went wandering.

“People with higher working memory capacity reported more mind wandering during these simple tasks,” says Levinson; test performance was not compromised.

“When circumstances for the task aren’t very difficult, people who have additional working memory resources deploy them to think about things other than what they’re doing,” Smallwood adds.

In contrast, introducing distractions (such as lots of other similarly shaped letters), reduced the tendency for mind wandering.

Working memory capacity correlates highly to overall intelligence and academic performance. The study highlights the importance of working memory in everyday life and once again points to the value of working memory training.

“Our results suggest that the sorts of planning that people do quite often in daily life — when they’re on the bus, when they’re cycling to work, when they’re in the shower — are probably supported by working memory,” says Smallwood. “Their brains are trying to allocate resources to the most pressing problems.”

The results don’t mean that people with high working memory capacity are necessarily afflicted with a straying mind. Working memory can also be used to stay focused. “If your priority is to keep attention on task, you can use working memory to do that, too,” Smallwood adds.

Levinson is now studying how working memory training affects wandering thoughts, seeking to understand how people can control it.

Brain Training Updates – Pro, SE, and IC

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

Today we’ve released an interim update to the MindSparke suite of brain training programs, Brain Fitness Pro, SE and IC. This update includes the following changes:

1. In Stages 3 and 4, the N-level indicator will now change color at the end of a training block when the N-level moves up or down.  The background will show green when the N-level increases, and orange when it decreases. Otherwise it will remain white.


2. We’ve added subscription status and subscription management features to the Profile panel.  If you need to update your payment method, cancel your subscription, or renew your subscription you can get to these functions through the Profile panel (click on the toolbar button that looks like the a person’s silhouette).

3. We’ve added version management. Version management happens behind the scenes but should prevent you having to reload the program or clear your browser’s cache when we release further updates in the future.

Please let us know if you have questions or suggestions!

Best wishes,
Martin Walker

MindSparke Working Memory Training

For A Quick Working Memory Boost, Get A Dishonest Opinion

Monday, January 9th, 2012

While brain fatigue isn’t all in the mind, so to speak, some of it might be. Scientists at the University of Florida, Warrington College of Business Administration, designed a novel experiment to see whether people’s perception of their level of mental burnout would affect their performance on a working memory test. The answer: Yes.

Lead by Joshua Clarkson the University of Florida team asked participants to undergo one of two mental tasks. For some the task assigned was truly arduous, designed to tax his or her mental resources, whereas for others the task assigned was not strenuous enough to induce mental fatigue.  The team provided the participants with false feedback about how much the task had depleted their mental resources. All participants then completed a working memory test. Those participants who’d been told that they were not mentally fatigued scored relatively higher on the test of working memory capacity. The performance benefit was independent of the individuals’ actual state of depletion.

(Now if they could only bottle it.)

Working Memory Training And Success

Monday, December 5th, 2011
Albert Einstein

Successful Smart Person

In recent years the idea that higher intelligence and brain capacity don’t equate to a greater chance of success has gained ground through books and articles by the likes of the New Yorker’s Malcolm Gladwell and the New York Times’ David Brooks. Intelligence plays a role up to a point, they’ve argued, but after that it’s down to practice and persistence.

Michigan State University researcher Zack Hambrick disagrees, and he’s done the work to prove it. Through extensive studies Dr. Hambrick has gathered real-world data that indicates that Gladwell and Brooks are just plain wrong. Good news for those of us who dedicate time to working memory training to increase IQ.

“While the specialized knowledge that accumulates through practice is the most important ingredient to reach a very high level of skill, it’s not always sufficient,” said Hambrick, associate professor of psychology. “Working memory capacity can still predict performance in complex domains such as music, chess, science, and maybe even in sports that have a substantial mental component such as golf.”

“David Brooks and Malcolm Gladwell are simply wrong,” said Hambrick, “The evidence is quite clear: A high level of intellectual ability puts a person at a measurable advantage – and the higher the better.”

Working Memory, Stress, And Peak Performance

Monday, October 24th, 2011
Dr. Sian Beilock - Choke

Dr. Sian Beilock

Sian Beilock, associate professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, has spent years studying the factors that affect our performance in stressful situations. She has found that we’re often our own worst enemies, undermining our abilities by overthinking or worrying. Her work also confirms again the critical role played by working memory:

“Beilock’s work has shown the importance of working memory in helping people perform their best, in academics and in business. Working memory is lodged in the prefrontal cortex and is a sort of mental scratch pad that is temporary storage for information relevant to the task at hand, whether that task is doing a math problem at the board or responding to tough, on-the-spot questions from a client. Talented people often have the most working memory, but when worries creep up, the working memory they normally use to succeed becomes overburdened. People lose the brain power necessary to excel.”

Working memory training can counteract this problem by increasing our working memory and improving our ability to stay focused under pressure.

For more on Dr. Beilock’s work:


Working Memory And Genetic Inheritance

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

A new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience in July, 2011 shows that genetics plays a strong role in working memory capacity. By measuring working memory ability in sets of twins using n-back testing, the scientists found that twin sets had very similar working memory ability.

Now, the interesting thing about this result is that we also know that working memory is highly trainable. Working memory training with MindSparke can easily double or triple our working memory ability on the n-back task. This tells me that everyday mental tasks tend not to challenge our working memory intensively enough to change it. Our brains tend to coast when they can and we largely have the working memory capacity we were born with. Unless, that is, we engage in a course of working memory training!

Memory Loss: A Reversible Problem?

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

It’s well known that our working memory capacity decreases as we age (by about 1% per year after we turn 40). But now Min Wang from the Yale University School of Medicine has found that the environment around the neurons that process working memory seems to be the culprit, not the neurons themselves. And, by suppressing these changes in monkeys, he has been able to reverse some of the age-related decline in their working memory.

Monkeys, like humans, have a highly developed pre-frontal cortex. After training a group of monkeys to remember the location of a visual display, Wang recorded the level of activity in their pre-frontal cortex after the display flashed on and off. This activity is typical of working memory activity as the monkeys tried to remember the location of the display long enough to enjoy a reward.

In older monkeys Wang found that the delay neurons fired less strongly and became less sensitive. They found it correspondingly harder to remember the location from test to test.

Graphic Courtesy of Scientific American

While working memory decline likely has several causes, Wang looked at the impact of changes in the surrounding cells, in particular an increase in the level of a protein known as cAMP, a multipurpose molecule that carries signals around the body. cAMP inhibits neural activity.

When Wang used a drug called guanfacine to block the effects of cAMP, the neurons fired more strongly. Conversely, using etazolate to amplify the effects of cAMP, he was able to suppress the response of the delay neurons.

Guanfacine is already used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Tourette’s syndrome and some of the behavioural problems associated with autism. “We have found that guanfacine improves self-control in young adults, which is also a prefrontal ability,” says Amy Arnsten, lead on Wang’s new study. “It is currently being tested in people who want to quit smoking or other types of substance abuse, and appears to be having positive results.”

Personally, I’d like to see a similar study using working memory training to stimulate the response of delay neurons. Brain exercise is a great alternative to medication in reversing the effects of age-related memory loss.


Sticky Thoughts: Working Memory Training To Alleviate Depression

Friday, July 15th, 2011
working memory and depression

The Bane Of Sticky Thoughts

Our own customers and previous published research studies have demonstrated a strong connection between working memory training and a reduction in depression. A new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science suggests that people with depression find it difficult to move on from depressive thoughts. The study centered on the central role of working memory in this process.

Those with depression tend to revisit depressing memories. “They basically get stuck in a mindset where they relive what happened to them over and over again,” said Jutta Joormann from the University of Miami, study co-author with Sara Levens and Ian H. Gotlib of Stanford University. “Even though they think, oh, it’s not helpful, I should stop thinking about this, I should get on with my life—they can’t stop doing it,” she said. The team postulated a link between depression and working memory function, or malfunction. The brain uses working memory for all active thoughts — both those we want and those that creep in uninvited.

Testing twenty-six people with depression and twenty-seven who had never suffered from depression, the team presented each participant with three words in turn, allowing them one second to read the word. After being instructed to remember the words in forward or reverse order they were shown one of the words from the list and asked to say whether it had come first second or third. A faster response indicated more flexible thinking.

The results showed that the group with depression took longer to answer correctly after reversing the sequence. When the list contained words likely to be connected to depressive feelings, such as “death” or “sadness,” it took them longer still.

“The order of the words sort of gets stuck in their working memory, especially when the words are negative,” Joormann says.

So, what can we do with this information? Train our brains to be better at actively focusing on what we want to pay attention to!  Fortunately, working memory is a very flexible and trainable brain function. Intensive working memory training can help us in the moment to get into a better mood because it redirects our attention. It can also help us long term to gain greater control over our impulses and active working memory.

Working Memory Capacity & Emotional Control

Monday, June 13th, 2011

Various brain fitness studies have shown that working memory capacity plays a key role in our ability to control our impulses. Now brain fitness researchers from Case Western Reserve University have published a fascinating study that ties our working memory capacity to our resilience in the face of criticism.

The CWRU brain fitness team measured working memory capacity by asking the study participants to solve math problems while remembering words. The researchers followed this with a test, and gave either negative feedback or no feedback. Negative feedback took the form of commentary on the individual’s character such as “your responses indicate that you have a tendency to be egotistical, placing your own needs ahead of the interests of others” or that “if you fail to mature emotionally or change your lifestyle, you may have difficulty maintaining these friendships and are likely to form insecure relations.”

Immediately after delivering negative or no feedback, the researchers asked the participants to rate their familiarity with a list of people and places — some real, some fictitious. By measuring the participants’ likelihood to claim knowledge of the fictitious items, the researchers were able to determine how well they were coping with negative criticism. While such “over claiming” in a normal social environment would be considered boastful and immodest, over claiming after being criticized or demeaned is a natural and effective tool for assuaging heated emotions.

The brain fitness researchers found that participants with higher levels of working memory capacity over-claimed the most and reported fewer negative emotions such as shame or distress.

Or, put another way, with working memory training we can improve the tools we naturally possess to respond resiliently in stressful situations. Yet another great reason to stick with the brain training software!

Brain Training Report – Martin – Stage 3 – Session 282

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

Session number: 282

Average n-back: 8.4

Duration (estimate in minutes): 40

Started strong and then hit a tough spell, after which I stabilized but didn’t climb back up.

At one point during the session I remembered that the gains are not the important thing. Getting a higher score doesn’t bring benefits, but working at the task will. And perhaps struggling through a spell of poor focus is more important than enjoying a period of excellent focus…

Session 282 - Gapmatch

This post was submitted by martin.