Long-term brain effects of N-back training: an fMRI study

Brain Imaging Behav. 2019 Aug;13(4):1115-1127. doi: 10.1007/s11682-018-9925-x.


Neurobehavioral effects of cognitive training have become a popular research issue. Specifically, behavioral studies have demonstrated the long-term efficacy of cognitive training of working memory functions, but the neural basis for this training have been studied only at short-term. Using fMRI, we investigate the cerebral changes produced by brief single n-back training immediately and 5 weeks after finishing the training. We used the data from a sample of 52 participants who were assigned to either an experimental condition (training group) or a no-contact control condition. Both groups completed three fMRI sessions with the same n-back task. Behavioral and brain effects were studied, comparing the conditions and sessions in both groups. Our results showed that n-back training improved performance in terms of accuracy and response speed in the trained group compared to the control group. These behavioral changes in trained participants were associated with decreased activation in various brain areas related to working memory, specifically the frontal superior/middle cortex, inferior parietal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, and middle temporal cortex. Five weeks after training, the behavioral and brain changes remained stable. We conclude that cognitive training was associated with an improvement in behavioral performance and decreased brain activation, suggesting better neural efficiency that persists over time.

Keywords: Cognitive training, long-term effects; Working memory; fMRI; n-back.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology
  • Reaction Time
  • Teaching / psychology*
  • Time
  • Young Adult