Near and far transfer in cognitive training: A second-order meta-analysis

Giovanni Sala, N. Deniz Aksayli, K. Semir Tatlidil, Tomoko Tatsumi, Yasuyuki Gondo, Fernand Gobet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

134 Citations (Scopus)


Theory building in science requires replication and integration of findings regarding a particular research question. Second-order meta-analysis (i.e., a meta-analysis of meta-analyses) offers a powerful tool for achieving this aim, and we use this technique to illuminate the controversial field of cognitive training. Recent replication attempts and large meta-analytic investigations have shown that the benefits of cognitive-training programs hardly go beyond the trained task and similar tasks. However, it is yet to be established whether the effects differ across cognitive-training programs and populations (children, adults, and older adults). We addressed this issue by using second-order meta-analysis. In Models 1 (k = 99) and 2 (k = 119), we investigated the impact of working-memory training on near-transfer (i.e., memory) and far-transfer (e.g., reasoning, speed, and language) measures, respectively, and whether it is mediated by the type of population. Model 3 (k = 233) extended Model 2 by adding six meta-analyses assessing the far-transfer effects of other cognitive-training programs (video-games, music, chess, and exergames). Model 1 showed that working-memory training does induce near transfer, and that the size of this effect is moderated by the type of population. By contrast, Models 2 and 3 highlighted that far-transfer effects are small or null. Crucially, when placebo effects and publication bias were controlled for, the overall effect size and true variance equaled zero. That is, no impact on far-transfer measures was observed regardless of the type of population and cognitive-training program. The lack of generalization of skills acquired by training is thus an invariant of human cognition.

Original languageEnglish
Article number18
JournalCollabra: Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


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