Dopamine, working memory, and training induced plasticity: implications for developmental research

Dev Psychol. 2012 May;48(3):836-43. doi: 10.1037/a0026179. Epub 2011 Nov 21.


Cognitive deficits and particularly deficits in working memory (WM) capacity are common features in neuropsychiatric disorders. Understanding the underlying mechanisms through which WM capacity can be improved is therefore of great importance. Several lines of research indicate that dopamine plays an important role not only in WM function but also for improving WM capacity. For example, pharmacological interventions acting on the dopaminergic system, such as methylphenidate, improve WM performance. In addition, behavioral interventions for improving WM performance in the form of intensive computerized training have recently been associated with changes in dopamine receptor density. These two different means of improving WM performance--pharmacological and behavioral--are thus associated with similar biological mechanisms in the brain involving dopaminergic systems. This article reviews some of the evidence for the role of dopamine in WM functioning, in particular concerning the link to WM development and cognitive plasticity. Novel data are presented showing that variation in the dopamine transporter gene (DAT1) influences improvements in WM and fluid intelligence in preschool-age children following cognitive training. Our results emphasize the importance of the role of dopamine in determining cognitive plasticity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Child
  • Child Development / physiology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Dopamine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins / genetics
  • Female
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Intelligence / genetics
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / genetics
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide / genetics
  • Transfer, Psychology / physiology*


  • Dopamine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • SLC6A3 protein, human
  • Dopamine