Optimized cognitive training: investigating the limits of brain training on generalized cognitive function
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Since antiquity, philosophers, theologians, and scientists have been interested in human memory; however, researchers today are still working to understand the capabilities, boundaries, and architecture. While the storage capabilities of long-term memory are seemingly unlimited (Bahrick, 1984), working memory, or the ability to maintain and manipulate information held in memory, seems to have stringent capacity limits (e.g., Cowan, 2001). Individual differences, however, do exist and these differences can often predict performance on a wide variety of tasks (cf. Engle, 2001). Recently, researchers have promoted the enticing possibility that simple behavioral training can expand the limits of working memory which indeed may also lead to improvements on other cognitive processes as well (cf. Morrison&Chein, 2011). The current study investigated this possibility. Recommendations from the skill training literature (cf. Schneider, 1985) were incorporated to create optimized verbal and spatial working memory training tasks. Significant performance improvements were evident across eight days of cognitive training using verbal and spatial adaptive n-back procedures. Training-related improvements were also evident for some untrained measures of visual short-term memory, attentional control, and working memory. These training effects, however, were not universal. Other measures of visual short-term memory and attentional control, as well as measures of fluid intelligence were unaffected by training.