Translator: Tijana Mihajlović
Reviewer: Ivana Krivokuća I’m sure most of you
are familiar with the situation when you walk into a room,
then you stare into the wall, and then you think,
“Why did I walk into this room?” So you had a plan, right,
just a few seconds ago, you had a plan of what to do next,
but somehow you lost it. There is a special kind of memory that’s supposed
to keep plans like that in mind, and it’s called working memory. It’s a very useful kind of memory. You use it not only
to remember plans and instructions, but you also use it
to keep in mind relevant information when you solve problems. So it’s very important
for mathematical problem solving, and it is also
closely related to attention. So one way to put that is you need
to remember what to focus on. I’m going to illustrate that
by testing your working memory here. Your task here is to remember
where this person is pointing so that you can point at the same boxes
in the same order, OK? OK, now you’re keeping information
in working memory, four positions, so that you can do something
based on that information, right? Easy enough. Let’s have another one. So the same task:
remember where this person points. Any volunteers here, in the first row? That’s a bit harder. This illustrates the key problem here, and the key problem
is that working memory is limited. Capacity to store information is limited. If I were to test you, you would remember
roughly seven items here. This has been termed
“the magic number seven”. It’s thought to be a very important limit on information processing ability
of the human brain. But, some of you might remember eight,
some of you might remember only six – so, that’s normal – but when you get
an unusually low working memory, you run into problems. Children with low working memory capacity, they have problems
remembering instructions, what to do next, they are inattentive, they fail in mathematics,
they struggle with reading comprehension. So I said, “We have a problem, and I think I have,
a partial, at least, solution.” So I started to study the neuroscience
of working memory about 20 years ago, to understand what’s the neural basis
for working memory, and what’s the neural basis
for these capacity limitations. One finding from our and others’ research is that this is not a global problem
all over the brain, but it seems to be restricted
to a set of bottleneck areas in the brain and the connections between them. Here seems to be that the processing ability
of these regions is also constituting
the limitations of working memory. But on the other hand,
we know that the brain is plastic. It can change with training.
It can change with experience. For example, if you look
at musicians, violinists, you see the brain areas
controlling the fingers – they change as a result of practice. So why wouldn’t you be able
to change these regions as well? I teamed up with
some computer game programmers to make a program where –
a computer program where children could train working memory. We want them to train on tasks
similar to the one that I showed you here, to do that for at least 45 minutes – that’s about how long…
time they can manage – and do that five times a week
for five weeks. That’s again about as long as they
could manage to do this. Using computer-game-like design
made it slightly more motivating. We also could use the computer program
to adapt the difficulty level, so it’s close to the capacity limit. That’s a similar principle
to when you do physical training. It’s when you’re close to your limits
that you can actually change. Then, we wanted to test the effect of this and we did that in roughly the same way you go about when you want
to try out a new drug. You have people randomized
to either receiving the treatment – which is the working memory
training in this study – or a placebo, which was a computer program where difficulty level was not adapted
to the limit of the subjects. Then you have psychological tests, measuring working memory capacity
of the children before and after. So this was a very simplistic idea. This was a neuroscientist stumbling
into the field of working memory and treating working memory as a muscle,
rather than some magical black box. But it worked. When we looked at the test results, we could see that children
doing the training, they have actually improved
their working memory capacity by roughly 20 to 15 percent, and this has been replicated
many times now. So the magic number seven
isn’t so magic, after all. Then we went back to the neuroscience
to look at what’s happening in the brains of these subjects, and we could see that there are changes in these network regions
or bottleneck areas. And other people have also shown
that you can measure strengthening of connectivity
between these regions as a result of working memory training. So we could show
that indeed the brain is plastic. This is nice. We can push the limits. We can watch the changes
that are happening in the brain. The third question is: does it matter? Does it matter for people
in everyday life? One thing that does matter
is remembering plans and instructions, and we and others have now
actually measured how long instructions can a child
keep in mind and perform accurately, and does it change, and it does. So children going
through the working memory training, they can now remember longer instructions. Another way to look at usefulness
is actually asking parents and teachers about symptoms in everyday life, the behavior of the children
in everyday life, about inattentiveness
and if they can follow instructions. Here we are looking at
13 studies that did that. They get inattentive symptoms
in the group doing the training and how that changes, and in the control group
and how that changes, and then comparing them. If there was no effect at all, you would see a little green dot
precisely at the line here. But as you see, the green dots,
they end up consistently to the left, meaning here that you have a reduction of inattention in the training. And if you add this up,
you can see that this reduction is around half a standard deviation,
which is pretty good. We published the first working memory
training study 12 years ago. Now there are more than a hundred studies
that are published on different aspects of working memory training. We will know –
we will continue to learn about how to do the working memory training, what’s the most effective way to do this. But we already see that there is
an effect, that it is useful in practice. And now, we have
more than 50 thousand children that have benefited
from working memory training in more than 20 different countries. So the science tells us about the effects, but it’s also interesting
to hear from the children, and here are some comments. One says that, “Now I can remember
what the teacher says.” Another, “Before, I couldn’t find
my stuff. I could be looking for two days! Now I can find them at once”, or, “I can sit and shut out
the noise from around. When I read, I can focus;
before, I couldn’t do that.” This training does not solve
all the problems that these children might have, but it helps them keep focus, it helps them keep a plan in mind, and that’s a good start. Thank you. (Applause)