Training-induced improvement in working memory tasks results from switching to efficient strategies

It is debated whether training with a working memory (WM) task, particularly n-back, can improve general WM and reasoning skills. Most training studies found substantial improvement in the trained task, with little to no transfer to untrained tasks. We hypothesized that training does not increase WM capacity, but instead provides opportunities to develop an efficient task-specific strategy. We derived a strategy for the task that optimizes WM resources and taught it to participants. In two sessions, 14 participants who were taught this strategy performed as well as fourteen participants who trained for 40 sessions without strategy instructions. To understand the mechanisms underlying the no-instruction group’s improvement, participants answered questionnaires during their training period. Their replies indicate that successful learners discovered the same strategy and their improvement was associated with this discovery. We conclude that n-back training allows the discovery of strategies that enable better performance with the same WM resources.

Authors: Tamar Malinovitch, Hilla Jackoby, Merav Ahissar
Year of publication: 2021
Journal: Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Link to publication:


“Working memory”