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Working Memory Training

Reminder: 60 or so science bloggers are celebrating the Week of Science presented at Just Science, from Monday, February 5, through Sunday, February 11. We will be writing about “just science” this week, by discussing peer-reviewed research papers in the field of brain fitness.

Yesterday we talked about Cognitive Reserve and Lifestyle, a paper and research area that helps build the case for mental stimulation/ brain exercise if we care about long-term healthy aging.

Today we will approach the subject of cognitive training from the opposite corner: we will discuss immediate benefits of training for quality of life and performance in children with ADD/ ADHD. Some of the most promising effects seen are those that show how working memory training can generalize into better complex reasoning (measured by Ravens), inhibition (Stroop) and ADD/ ADHD symptoms ratings, beyond WM improvements.

Our main character: Dr. Torkel Klingberg, whom we had the fortune to interview last September (full notes at Working Memory Training and RoboMemo: Interview with Dr. Torkel Klingberg), and who has since received the pretigious Philip’s Nordic Prize.

We highlight some of the interview notes:

Alvaro Fernandez (AF): Welcome. Can you let us know where you work, and what your Lab does?

Dr. Torkel Klingberg (TK): I have a professorship at Karolinska Institute, and lead the Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience Lab, part of the Stockholm Brain Institute. The lab is addressing the questions of development and plasticity of working memory. We do that through several techniques, such as fMRI, diffusion tensor imaging to look at myelination of white matter in the brain, neural network models of working memory and behavioral studies. In addition, I am a scientific advisor for Cogmed, the company that developed and commercializes RoboMemo.

AF: What studies have you published so far? What studies are in the pipeline, and will be published soon?

TK: You can find a complete list, and the studies themselves, at the lab homepage. Among our studies are three studies on the effect of working memory training: Klingberg et al. 2002, 2005 and Olesen et al. 2004. We have recently submitted two papers on the effect of training in combination with medication, and the effect of training on school performance.

AF: What are the highlights of your research so far?

TK: Our paper from 2004 in Nature Neuroscience, on the effect of working memory training on brain activity, and the 2005 randomized, controlled clinical trial that showed the impact of working memory training specifically in kids with ADD/ ADHD, have caught most public attention, including references in Scientific American.

My other research concerns the neural basis for development and plasticity of cognitive functions during childhood, in particular development of attention and working memory.
In short, I’d say that we have shown that working memory can be improved by training and that such training helps people with attention deficits and it also improves reasoning ability overall.

AF: What are the effects in every-day life for a child with attention deficits?

TK: When looking at the 1,200 children who have trained in Cogmed’s Stockholm Clinic since start, the most common effects are sustained attention, better impulse control and improved learning ability. Parents often report that their children perform better in school and are able to keep up a coherent conversation more easily after training. Being able to hold back impulses, such as anger outbursts, and keeping better track of one’s things are other every-day life benefits.

AF: What do you expect that we will learn over the next 5 years in the field of Brain Fitness Programs and cognitive training?

TK: I think that we are seeing the beginning of a new era of computerized training for a wide range of applications. Our studies has mostly been aimed at individuals with marked problems of inattention, but there is a wider zone concerning what you define as attention problems, and we will see how RoboMemo can help a larger part of the population in improving cognitive function.

Here you have some blog articles you may be interested in to better put this research in perspective:

Working Memory Training and Attention Deficits

Cognitive Neuroscience and ADD/ADHD Today

Cognitive Training and ADD/ADHD: Interview with Prof. David Rabiner, Senior Research Scientist and the Director of Psychology and Neuroscience Undergraduate Studies at Duke University.

And here you can download all Publications listed below:

Macoveanu, J, Klingberg, T, Tegnr J (2006) A biophysical model of multiple-item working memory: a computational and neuroimaging study. Neuroscience, 141(3): 1611-1618.

Olesen, P, Macoveanu, J, Tegnr J, Klingberg, T (2006) Brain activity related to working memory and distraction in children and adults. Cerebral Cortex, E-publication ahead of print, June 26.

Klingberg, T (2006) Development of a superior frontal-intraparietal network for visuo-spatial working memory. Neuropsychologia, 44(11): 2171-2177.

Klingberg, T, Fernell, E, Olesen, P, Johnson, M, Gustafsson, P, Dahlstrm, K, Gillberg, CG, Forssberg, H, Westerberg, H (2005) Computerized training of working memory in children with ADHD  a randomized, controlled trial. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 44(2): 177-186.

Nagy Z, Lindstrm, K, Westerberg, H, Skare, S, Andersson, J, Hallberg, B, Lagercrantz, H, Klingberg, T, Fernell, E (2005) Diffusion tensor imaging on teenagers, born at term with moderate hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy. Pediatric Research, 58(5): 936-940.

Nagy, Z, Westerberg, H, Klingberg, T (2004) Maturation of white matter is associated with the development of cognitive functions during childhood. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 16(7): 1227-1233.

Westerberg, H, Hirvikoski, T, Forssberg, H Klingberg, T (2004) Visuo-spatial working memory span: a sensitive measure of cognitive deficits in children with ADHD. Child Neuropsychology, 10(3): 155-161.

Olesen, P, Westerberg, H, Klingberg, T (2004) Increased prefrontal and parietal brain activity after training of working memory. Nature Neuroscience, 7(1): 75-79.

Olesen, P, Nagy, Z, Westerberg, H, Klingberg, T (2003) Combined analysis of DTI and fMRI data reveals a joint maturation of white and grey matter in a fronto-parietal network. Cognitive Brain Research, 18(1): 48-57.

Nagy, Z, Westerberg, H, Skare, S, Andersson, JL, Fernell, E, Holmberg, K, Bhm, B, Forssberg, H, Lagercrantz, H, Klingberg, T (2003) Preterm children have disturbances of white matter at 11 years of age as shown by diffusion tensor imaging. Paediatric Research, 54(5): 672-679.

Klingberg, T, Forssberg, H, Westerberg, H (2002) Training of Working Memory in Children with ADHD. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 24(6): 781-791.

Klingberg T, Forssberg H, Westerberg H (2002) Increased brain activity in frontal and parietal cortex underlies the development of visuospatial working memory capacity during childhood. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 14(1): 1-10.

Bunge SA, Klingberg T, Jacobsen RB, Gabrieli JDE (2000) A resource model of the neural basis of executive working memory. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 97(7): 3573-3578.

Klingberg T, Hedehus M, Temple E, Salz T, Gabrieli JDE, Moseley ME, Poldrack RA (2000) Microstructure of Temporo-Parietal White Matter as a Basis for Reading Ability : Evidence from Diffusion Tensor Magnetic Resonance Imaging. Neuron, 25(2): 493-500.

Klingberg T, (2000) Limitations in information processing in the human brain: neuroimaging of dual-task performance and working memory tasks. Progress in Brain Research, 126: 95-102.

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