April 19, 2024

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

Recently, experts have developed and released brain exercises for improving the working memory.

Developments in science and technology continue to change the way individuals improve their overall health and wellness. From apps that can track health data to 3D printed skin, lives across the globe have been forever changed by the availability of accessible health technology. Among the many advancements in this area are computer-based exercises that have been proven to improve the working memory. Within the past decade, developers have created computer programs that people can use to quickly and efficiently see results.

What is the working memory?

The working memory is responsible for temporarily storing and using various pieces of information (about seven pieces on average). From phone numbers, to addresses, to new content learned in the classroom, the working memory allows an individual to hold onto information until it is no longer needed. This type of memory is considered to be part of the short-term memory, and is essential for numerous everyday scenarios. Without a properly functioning working memory, learning, decision making, following instructions, reading, and paying attention become challenging.

In 1974, Alan Baddeley and Graham Hitch developed the working memory model to help explain this function of the brain. They proposed that there are multiple components of the working memory, all which serve specific purposes. The central executive system is said to help supervise all other areas, and help determine the focus of an individual’s attention. The three other parts of the working memory model (the latter added in the year 2000) include the Phonological Loop, the Visuo-Spatial Sketchpad, and Episodic Buffer.

How can science improve the working memory?

The working memory is essential for completing simple tasks and functioning in everyday life, so it is necessary to take steps to improve the working memory if it is not operating properly. A properly functioning working memory is especially important for children, who must use it to learn new material in school. If left untreated, children with a limited working memory can fall behind in their reading skills, math skills, and social skills.

Recently, experts have developed and released brain exercises for improving the working memory. Both adults and children are able to use these exercises to boost their memory abilities. Researchers at John Hopkins University discovered that “dual-n-back” training programmes are among the most effective memory exercises available. The subjects who used this form of memory training in the study experienced a 30% improvement in working memory abilities. Other studies have supported these findings, and have confirmed that desirable results can be achieved in 30 minutes per day, five days per week.

These brain training exercises involve a grid (similar to that which is used in the game of tic-tac-toe), and require the recall of the positioning of squares within this grid. Free and purchased versions can be acquired by users depending on their individual needs and preferences. After engaging in a regular use of “dual-n-back” training programs, individuals begin to experience the benefits of an improved working memory. These noticeable benefits include better understanding and comprehension of material, enhanced concentration, and improved abilities to hold a conversation.

It is important to note that not all brain training exercises are useful for improving the working memory. While some programs may make claims to boosting this function of the brain, many claims are unsupported. In fact, the study that was completed at John Hopkins University emphasised the importance of choosing the correct brain training exercises. The rigorous and intentional design of “dual-n-back” computer training programs are developed with the purpose of enhancing the working memory.

Are “dual-n-back” brain exercises effective for everyone?

While the study at John Hopkins University looked at the impact of “dual-n-back” training programs on people in their early 20s, there is reason to think that nearly everyone can experience benefits from using this scientific, computer-based brain exercise. Although results are likely to vary from person to person, there has not been any significant evidence to show that the benefits of “dual-n-back” training are not accessible to everyone.

The future of brain exercises and memory improvements

As science and technology continue to change the way minds and bodies function, it is encouraging to look ahead to the future of brain and memory exercises. Researchers continue to erase the barriers that limit individuals by developing technologies that can sharpen the mind. Future advancements could lead to greater improvements in the working memory, as well as the long-term memory. There could also be additional developments for those who suffer from conditions such as ADD, ADHD, and cognitive decline. For now, individuals can harness the power of modern science to significantly enhance the ability of their working memory.

Jackie Edwards is a freelance writer

Banner image: Goldfish, Flickr / Austin Kirk