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Training on Memory Updating Is a Potential New Way to Expand the Working Memory Capacity in Old Adults
Author: CHEN Tianyong      Update time: 2019/01/02
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Working memory is capacity-limited but plays an essential role in fluid cognition. Therefore, it is often assumed that multifold benefits on fluid cognition are possible if a person’s working memory capacity (WMC) can be expanded through training. However, a growing body of training studies on working memory sought to enhance fluid cognition without first confirming the expression of WMC expansion. Updating and WMC were assumed to reflect the same mechanism (i.e. deliberate retrieval); however, the training target of updating and its associated underlying mechanism have remained to be further clarified with more careful task analysis and new emerging evidence through neural facilitation.

Recently, Dr. HAN Buxin and his team from the Institute of Psychology of CAS, systematically investigated the plasticity of updating and whether updating training can induce WMC expansion in late adulthood. In this randomized controlled study, 33 older adults (aged 60 years and above) were assigned to updating training (n = 17) and contact control (n = 16) groups. In the training group, updating was targeted by a running memory task and a chess game in each training session; whereas in the control group, motivational effects were estimated by their attendance to a series of mental health-related lectures.

The boosted updating efficiency was demonstrated by direct training gains over sessions on updating criterion/training tasks, and significant frontocentral inflation at the N2 time range. Near transfer effects were revealed on untrained similar measures immediately after training and partly maintained at a 3-month follow-up. Far transfer effects to WMC were revealed by a significant increase in contralateral delay activity (CDA) ERP measures, although these effects did not manifest on WMC span tasks and other far transfer measures. Note that increased CDA was significantly correlated with the extent of direct gains in updating training. Our findings suggest that updating efficiency can be boosted in older adults; although it has not yet brought about an explicit expansion of WMC in our behavioral measures (i.e., on span tasks), capacity-related neural changes (i.e., on CDA) have nevertheless, started to show up in our short-term updating training program.

This study was supported by grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (81671040) and the National Key Research and Development Program of China (2017YFC1310102). The paper is now available online in in Psychology and Aging (http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pag0000311).

Du, X., Ji, Y., Chen, T., Tang, Y., & Han, B. (2018, November 26). Can Working Memory Capacity Be Expanded by Boosting Working Memory Updating Efficiency in Older Adults? Psychology and Aging. Advance online publication.

LIU Chen
Institute of Psychology
Email: liuc@psych.ac.cn


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