There is intense scientific, practitioner, and commercial interest in the possibility that cognitive skills can be improved through training, and that in turn these improvements will ameliorate the negative consequences of poor cognitive abilities (i.e. poor educational outcomes). In our group we combine experimental methods with field trials and randomised controlled studies to investigate the effects of working memory training.
Early evidence that working memory training had practical benefits, including our own work (Holmes et al., 2009, 2010; 2012), has since been replaced with the less optimistic view that training improves performance only on the trained tasks and on closely related activities.
Within our group we have taken an experimental approach to investigating the task features that constrain transfer following training. We have shown training-related improvements on one category of task do not transfer to different untrained categories of working memory tasks (Holmes et al., 2019), and that transfer within a paradigm is constrained by stimulus domain (e.g. verbal to visuo-spatial; Byrne et al. 2019).
Led by former PhD student, Dr Elizabeth Byrne, our group conducted the largest factor analytic study of working memory tasks to-date (Byrne, et al., 2019). We revealed that working memory tasks group according to paradigm, even when other task features such as stimulus domain and materials are controlled. This provides insight into the reasons why transfer does not occur across different paradigms.
We have also tested ways to potentially enhance the effects of cognitive training in adults using transcranial electrical stimulation, a non-invasive neuromodulatory tool. In a series of randomised controlled trials, each using different stimulation protocols, we found no evidence that stimulation enhances the magnitude or transfer of training effects (Holmes et al., 2016; Byrne et al., 2019).