Working Memory Training in Children

Could children benefit from working memory training? And even more interesting, could children with a delay in cognitive development benefit from working memory training? 

In an earlier article, we already talked about the cognitive load theory. Working memory plays a huge role in this theory. We saw that a trained brain is known to be able to hold around 7 ± 2 items of information at the same time. However, as you might know, this does not apply to everyone. A child in elementary school can load about 2 to 2.5 items at the same time, whereas an average adult typically saves about 3 to 4 objects in their working memory. The estimates of working memory capacity vary depending on, among others, the cognitive development of that specific person.

Why is it important to improve and train our working memory? Working memory is a particular part of the brain circuit that we, Aristotle, want to improve with our tool. One of the reasons is because an improvement of the working memory can increase the participation level of children with a cognitive delay in everyday activities. Besides, working memory plays a huge role in the school achievements of children. It is found that children with higher working memory capacities have better school achievements than children with lower working memory capacities. So we talked about working memory, improving everyday participation of children in daily life activities, and school achievements. But did you also know that overall working memory is known to play a role in emotion regulation? Specifically, researchers found that working memory training could improve emotion regulation ability. By improving this emotion regulation ability we might be able to prevent psychopathological symptoms in patients with emotional disorders. 

A fun fact about working memory: Did you know that lately, researchers found that working memory capacity can even predict your social-distancing compliance for COVID-19? That is insane, right? 

Okay, back to working memory training in children. So yes, we know that children benefit from an improvement in working memory capacity. But is it possible to train working memory in children? There is no unambiguous answer to that question since every working memory training is different. But some researchers found good results. Working memory tasks, used in cognitive training methods, involve tasks in which for example information has to be remembered during a concurrent task. With this knowledge, Christophe et al. recently proved that it is possible to improve the working memory of a 5-year-old. Another study, done by Studer-Luethi et al. shows that some children in a working memory training group have higher post-training gains compared to children in a reading training group and no-contact control group. They found that this gain only counts for the children with high effortful control or low neuroticism. Thus they stated that regulative abilities and emotional stability are necessary to enhance working memory using this working memory training. 

What is known about working memory training in children with special needs? Some studies have been done in this field of research. For example, Mezzacappa and Buckner computed a study in which children with attention problems followed a 5-weeks cognitive training program during school hours. The teachers of the children rated their children’s behavior before and after the 5-week intervention. The researchers also assessed verbal and visuospatial working memory. They concluded that “school-based working memory training may be a viable means for treating children with attention problems or hyperactivity”. But this field of research still needs further investigation. Specifically, they found a huge improvement of 26% in ADHD symptoms, an improvement of 36% in the WISC Digit Span Backward, and an improvement of 33% in WRAML Finger-Windows.

There is evidence that children with or without special needs can benefit from working memory training. However, every training program is different and therefore this field of research still needs further investigation. In the near future, we would like to prove that our product also improves the working memory of children with and without special needs. To, among others, help them participate in daily activities and improve their school achievements.

References

  • Cowan, N. (2016). Working Memory Maturation: Can We Get At the Essence of Cognitive Growth?
  • Xie, L., Wu, J., Chang, L., Zhou, R. (2018). Working Memory Training Improves Emotion Regulation Ability. 
  • Xie, W., Campbell, S., Zhang, W. (2020). Working memory capacity predicts individual differences in social-distancing compliance during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United states.
  • Fitamen, C., Blaye, A., Camos, V. (2019). Five-Year-Old Children’s Working Memory Can Be Improved When Children Act On A Transparent Goal Cue. Nature 9(15342).
  • Studer-Luethi, B., Bauer, C., Perrig, W.J. (2015). Working memory training in children: Effectiveness depends on temperament. Memory cognition. 44:171-186.
  • Mezzacappa, E., Buckner, J.C. (2010). Working Memory Training for Children with Attention Problems or Hyperactivity: A School-Based Pilot Study. School Mental Health. 2:202-208.