Guest Blogger: Tracy Alloway on Working Memory


Ever wonder if working memory training programs work?  Psychologist Tracy Alloway shares some exciting findings from her research. 

Working Memory and Learning Working memory refers to the important skill to keep information in mind and work with it. You can think of working memory as the brain’s ‘Post-it Note’. Working memory is critical for learning, from complex subjects such as reading comprehension, mental arithmetic, and word problems to simple tasks like copying from the board and navigating around school.

Here are some key findings:

•Working memory is the #1 predictor of learning success. Working memory is what you do with what you know and it is the foundation of learning.

•Working memory impacts all areas of learning from kindergarten to college. In a study with high schoolers, I found that Working memory was not only important for success in subjects like reading and math, but also Art and Music.

•Working Memory CAN be trained! Brain training is a growing and exciting new area in scientific research. In my research, I have found that computerized training can boost grades.

Training Working Memory

In recent clinical trials, students were allocated into one of three groups: Nonactive Control, Active Control, where they trained once a week; Training Group, where they trained 4x a week.

Having a control group is important in research on training because it offers a comparison to make sure that the training program is not just working because the child is doing something different.

In this study, we had 2 control groups, including a group who trained using the same training program, just on a less frequent basis.

All three groups were given tests of working memory, IQ, and language before training; and re-tested on the same measures after training, as well as eight months later.

The Training group (those who trained 4x a week) showed great improvements in IQ and working memory, and in their language as well.

This finding is very exciting and demonstrates what psychologists call ‘Transfer effects’. This means asking this question: does the product improve anything other than getting better at the game itself? Of course, you would expect that practicing hard at one thing will naturally make you better at it. This is known as a practice effect—doing something enough times makes you good.

But the real question is can a brain training program transfer to real world activities; in other words, can you get better at something other than the training game itself? That is what we wanted to know in these trials, and the findings showed that the improvements in the training program transferred to other areas of learning.

The most exciting thing is that all these improvements were maintained at the 8-month follow-up. This suggests that the improvements were not just temporary, but there was some lasting change in the students’ academic performance as a result of the training.

You can read about the study here.

As a psychologist, it is always exciting when research has a practical outcome. The greatest joy in working on this study was getting a chance to talk to the parents and hearing their story.

Tracy Packiam Alloway, PhD is now based in the US. Previously, she was the Director of the Center for Memory and Learning in the Lifespan, UK. You can find out more about her research on: