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Working Memory Training and RoboMemo: Interview with Dr. Torkel Klingberg

Wikipedia says “Recent stud­ies sug­gest that Work­ing Mem­o­ry can be improved by work­ing mem­o­ry train­ing (Kling­berg et al., 2002)…Per­haps of greater impor­tance, anoth­er study has found after a peri­od of work­ing mem­o­ry train­ing an increase in a range of cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties and an increase in IQ test scores of approx­i­mate­ly 8%.”

A search for “Torkel Kling­berg” in PubMed returns 26 papers pub­lished in peer-reviewed pub­li­ca­tions such as the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Acad­e­my of Child & Ado­les­cent Psy­chi­a­try, Jour­nal of Cog­ni­tive Neu­ro­science, and Nature Neu­ro­science.

We are hap­py to launch our Neu­ro­sci­en­tist Inter­view Series with an inter­view with Dr. Torkel Kling­berg.

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: How are you mak­ing the pro­gram avail­able?

TK: All rights are with Cogmed, who is mak­ing this avail­able in Swe­den and start­ing to offer this to select­ed clin­ics in the US this year. The pro­gram is called RoboMemo Work­ing Mem­o­ry Train­ing Pro­gram.

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.

AF: What will you talk about at CHADD?

TK: I will present the data from our pub­lished stud­ies on ADHD, as well as some new data from inde­pen­dent researchers in US uni­ver­si­ties that con­firm our find­ings con­cern­ing the effect of work­ing mem­o­ry train­ing.

AF: You are writ­ing a book, cor­rect? what is it about?

TK: The book is a pop­u­lar sci­ence book about work­ing mem­o­ry, in the lab and in dai­ly life. It will be out in March in Swe­den and we are cur­rent­ly look­ing for a US pub­lish­er.

AF: Dr. Kling­berg, thanks for your time.

TK: My plea­sure.


You may also be inter­est­ed in the fol­low­ing posts
Inter­view with Prof. David Rabin­er on Cog­ni­tive Train­ing and ADD/ ADHD
Neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty and brain exer­cise
Work­ing Mem­o­ry Train­ing and Atten­tion Deficits

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26 Responses

  1. Sabrina Anderson says:

    Why is your train­ing so expen­sive? What if a child just gives up after a cou­ple of ses­sions? Wouldn’t any par­ent spend­ing 1500 dol­lars say they see improve­ments in their child? Who wants to think they just wast­ed that much mon­ey? These obser­va­tions seem more sub­jec­tive than any­thing real­ly mea­sur­able.

  2. Alvaro says:

    Dear Sab­ri­na, it is not clear who you are ask­ing that ques­tion to. We don’t pro­vide any prod­uct.

    Let me sug­gest you ask Cogmed and/ or your kid’s clin­i­cal provider.


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