Working memory training does not enhance older adults' cognitive skills: A comprehensive meta-analysis

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


In the last two decades, considerable efforts have been devoted to finding a way to enhance cognitive function by cognitive training. To date, the attempt to boost broad cognitive functions in the general population has failed. However, it is still possible that some cognitive training regimens exert a positive influence on specific populations, such as older adults. In this meta-analytic review, we investigated the effects of working memory (WM) training on older adults' cognitive skills. Three robust-variance-estimation meta-analyses (N = 2140, m = 43, and k = 698) were run to analyze the effects of the intervention on (a) the trained tasks, (b) near-transfer measures, and (c) far-transfer measures. While large effects were found for the trained tasks (g¯ = 0.877), only modest (g¯ = 0.274) and near-zero (g¯ = 0.121) effects were obtained in the near-transfer and far-transfer meta-analyses, respectively. Publication-bias analysis provided adjusted estimates that were slightly lower. Moreover, when active control groups were implemented, the far-transfer effects were null (g¯ = −0.008). Finally, the effects were highly consistent across studies (i.e., low or null true heterogeneity), especially in the near- and far-transfer models. While confirming the difficulty in obtaining transfer effects with cognitive training, these results corroborate recent empirical evidence suggesting that WM is not isomorphic with other fundamental cognitive skills such as fluid intelligence.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101386
Publication statusPublished - 01-11-2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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