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What is working memory? Can it be trained? 07/12/2021

When our brain processes information, working memory not only stores the information temporarily in the short term memory, but also helps retrieve information from the long term memory when necessary. We use our 5 senses to record meaningful events, so that when we process these information, we can analyse, think and understand the experience.

The fact that our prefrontal cortex involves in working memory is also responsible for maintaining our attention, indicates that these two are closely linked. We use our working memory in everyday life. Therefore, if we enhance our working memory, we can improve our attention i.e. better at withstanding distraction and less likely to be disturbed. This in turn increases our ability, not only in planning and organising but also show more initiation and ability to complete a task. Moreover, enhancing our working memory also signify that we can remember instructions, which improves our ability to learn and can be useful in day-to-day life.

There are evidences from research that showed the positive effects on Cogmed Working Memory Training (CWMT). A research on 7-12 year-old ADHD children found that, after the adaptive CWMT, they showed improvements in response inhibition and sustained attention. Besides, Parents and teachers of these children reported positive improvements in their ADHD symptoms which included inattention (Bigorra et al., 2016).

Working Memory can be divided into 1) Verbal working memory 2) Visuospatial working memory

1) Verbal working memory refers to storing and processing of listening and verbal information simultaneously;

2) Visuospatial working memory refers to storing and processing of visual and spatial information simultaneously

In general, research had found that CWMT showed positive effects on both verbal and visuospatial working memory.

Many studies pointed out that learners can enhance their working memory capacity in the CWMT exercises and can generalise to other activities (Lundqvist, 2010, Brehmer et al., 2012, Bergman-Nutley and Klingberg, 2014). For example, a study found that young learners could understand and act upon longer and more difficult verbal instructions, which indicated improvements on their executive functioning after the training.

There are studies focused on the effect of CWMT on children with ADHD. One research showed that the training can increase the storage of both verbal and spatial information in children with ADHD(Chacko et al., 2014). Parents and teachers rated these learners with an improved metacognition index which included planning, organising, working memory, taking initiative and monitoring (Bigorra et al., 2016). In addition, there was a study conducted with a group of 8-12 year-old children with neonatal critical illness who completed the training. The children who showed significant improvements on verbal working memory, had an increase activation on their left superior longitudinal fasciculus (SFL), compared to those without significant verbal working memory improvements. This suggested that the change in the microstructure of white matter is associated with the cognitive outcome from CWMT (Schiller et al., 2019). This would be an evidence of a link between CWMT and neuroplasticity which may indicate long term effects on CWMT.

Educational psychologist at Mindfully will now provide Cogmed Working Memory Training.

For more information, please contact 91987264 or click the link below.

Angel Tsoi (BSc Psy, University of Essex)


Bergman Nutley, Sissela, Fahimeh Darki, and Torkel Klingberg. "Music practice is associated with development of working memory during childhood and adolescence." Frontiers in human neuroscience 7 (2014): 926.

Bigorra, A., Garolera, M., Guijarro, S., & Hervás, A. (2016). Long-term far-transfer effects of working memory training in children with ADHD: a randomized controlled trial. European child & adolescent psychiatry, 25(8), 853-867.

Brehmer, Y., Westerberg, H., & Bäckman, L. (2012). Working-memory training in younger and older adults: training gains, transfer, and maintenance. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 6, 63.

Chacko, A., Bedard, A. C., Marks, D. J., Feirsen, N., Uderman, J. Z., Chimiklis, A., ... & Ramon, M. (2014). A randomized clinical trial of Cogmed working memory training in school‐age children with ADHD: A replication in a diverse sample using a control condition. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 55(3), 247-255.

Klingberg, T., Forssberg, H., & Westerberg, H. (2002). Training of working memory in children with ADHD. Journal of clinical and experimental neuropsychology, 24(6), 781-791.

Lundqvist, A., Grundström, K., Samuelsson, K., & Rönnberg, J. (2010). Computerized training of working memory in a group of patients suffering from acquired brain injury. Brain injury, 24(10), 1173-1183.

Schiller, R. M., IJsselstijn, H., Madderom, M. J., van Rosmalen, J., van Heijst, A. F., Smits, M., ... & White, T. (2019). Training-induced white matter microstructure changes in survivors of neonatal critical illness: A randomized controlled trial. Developmental cognitive neuroscience, 38, 100678.

Steeger, C. M., Gondoli, D. M., Gibson, B. S., & Morrissey, R. A. (2016). Combined cognitive and parent training interventions for adolescents with ADHD and their mothers: A randomized controlled trial. Child Neuropsychology, 22(4), 394-419.

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