Working memory updating training promotes plasticity & behavioural gains: a systematic review & meta-analysis

Katerina Pappa, Viveka Biswas, Kristin E. Flegal, Jonathan J. Evans, Satu Baylan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)
77 Downloads (Pure)


Aims: Recent reviews yield contradictory findings regarding the efficacy of working memory training and transfer to untrained tasks. We reviewed working memory updating (WMU) training studies and examined cognitive and neural outcomes on training and transfer tasks. Methods: Database searches for adult brain imaging studies of WMU training were conducted. Training-induced neural changes were assessed qualitatively, and meta-analyses were performed on behavioural training and transfer effects. Results: A large behavioural training effect was found for WMU training groups compared to control groups. There was a moderate near transfer effect on tasks in the same cognitive domain, and a non-significant effect for far transfer to other cognitive domains. Functional neuroimaging changes for WMU training tasks revealed consistent frontoparietal activity decreases while both decreases and increases were found for subcortical regions. Conclusions: WMU training promotes plasticity and has potential applications in optimizing interventions for neurological populations. Future research should focus on the mechanisms and factors underlying plasticity and generalisation of training gains.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)209-235
Number of pages27
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Early online date7 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2020


  • cognitive training
  • learning
  • neuroimaging
  • plasticity
  • transfer
  • working memory updating


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