It has been suggested that working memory training programs are effective both as
treatments for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other cognitive
disorders in children and as a tool to improve cognitive ability and scholastic attainment
in typically developing children and adults. However, effects across studies appear
to be variable, and a systematic meta-analytic review was undertaken. To be included
in the review, studies had to be randomized controlled trials or quasi-experiments
without randomization, have a treatment, and have either a treated group or an untreated
control group. Twenty-three studies with 30 group comparisons met the criteria for
inclusion. The studies included involved clinical samples and samples of typically
developing children and adults. Meta-analyses indicated that the programs produced
reliable short-term improvements in working memory skills. For verbal working memory,
these near-transfer effects were not sustained at follow-up, whereas for visuospatial
working memory, limited evidence suggested that such effects might be maintained.
More importantly, there was no convincing evidence of the generalization of working
memory training to other skills (nonverbal and verbal ability, inhibitory processes
in attention, word decoding, and arithmetic). The authors conclude that memory training
programs appear to produce short-term, specific training effects that do not generalize.
Possible limitations of the review (including age differences in the samples and the
variety of different clinical conditions included) are noted. However, current findings
cast doubt on both the clinical relevance of working memory training programs and
their utility as methods of enhancing cognitive functioning in typically developing
children and healthy adults.