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What is Working Memory? Can it Be Trained?

brain working memoryYou have probably noticed the increasing amount of research and media coverage focused on “working memory”. What is working memory? Why do we care? How can we best enhance it?

Working memory is the ability to keep information current in mind for a short period, while using this information for the task at hand. Working memory is supported by regions of the frontal lobes (in blue here) and parietal lobes (in yellow).

Let’s take a few concrete examples to understand in which situations working memory is used.

working memory examplesSituation 1: You are just back from your coffee break and your colleague, who is running in the hallway to catch up with the boss, tells you that Mr. Brown just called and can see you either on the 18th at 2:30pm or on the 20th at 9am. Your brain holds on to that information long enough so you can run to your office, frantically look for a pen and a piece of paper and eventually write it down. This is a perfect example of successful working memory. This brain function allows us to hold information in mind while we need it to accomplish a task.

working memory exampleSituation 2: You are talking with your financial advisor about your portfolio. He keeps throwing numbers and percentages at you. You try to figure out whether fund X (5% return, 5.75% service fees upfront but no fee when you sell) is better for you than fund Y (4% return, no upfront fees, fees when you sell that decrease over the years). You try hard for a while to do some mental math and figure out the big picture, then your mental screen goes blank and you feel utterly confused. This is a perfect example of working memory overload!

How can I assess my working memory ability? Does this ability matter for my everyday life, at work, school or home? Can working memory be trained? To help you find answers to these questions and others we have prepared this Q & A: Enjoy!


Q: What is the impact of working memory ability on everyday life?

A: Learn more about the role of working memory in everyday life in Why working memory matters in the knowledge age: study

Q: Do children with higher working memory performance do better at school?

A: Working memory may in fact be a better predictor of academic success than IQ

A: 10% Students may have working memory problems: Why does it matter?

Q: How much does my working memory ability affect how I think?

A: A lot! To figure it out  Try Thinking and Learning Without Working Memory

Q. Can working memory be trained?

A: Yes. For instance, one study shows that fluid intelligence can be improved thanks to working memory training. Learn more by reading this interview with the author of the study.

Q: Can working memory training help children with ADHD?

A: In this interview, Dr. Klingberg explains how many studies have shown that training work­ing mem­ory is possible and that such train­ing improves rea­son­ing abil­ity overall and helps peo­ple with atten­tion deficits.

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Categories: Attention and ADD/ADHD, Cognitive Neuroscience, Education & Lifelong Learning, Health & Wellness

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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters, and more, SharpBrains is an independent market research firm and think tank tracking health and performance applications of brain science.