Improving fluid intelligence with training on working memory: a meta-analysis

Psychon Bull Rev. 2015 Apr;22(2):366-77. doi: 10.3758/s13423-014-0699-x.


Working memory (WM), the ability to store and manipulate information for short periods of time, is an important predictor of scholastic aptitude and a critical bottleneck underlying higher-order cognitive processes, including controlled attention and reasoning. Recent interventions targeting WM have suggested plasticity of the WM system by demonstrating improvements in both trained and untrained WM tasks. However, evidence on transfer of improved WM into more general cognitive domains such as fluid intelligence (Gf) has been more equivocal. Therefore, we conducted a meta-analysis focusing on one specific training program, n-back. We searched PubMed and Google Scholar for all n-back training studies with Gf outcome measures, a control group, and healthy participants between 18 and 50 years of age. In total, we included 20 studies in our analyses that met our criteria and found a small but significant positive effect of n-back training on improving Gf. Several factors that moderate this transfer are identified and discussed. We conclude that short-term cognitive training on the order of weeks can result in beneficial effects in important cognitive functions as measured by laboratory tests.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aptitude*
  • Attention
  • Controlled Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intelligence*
  • Learning*
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term*
  • Middle Aged
  • Practice, Psychological*
  • Transfer, Psychology
  • Young Adult