To Switch or Not to Switch: Role of Cognitive Control in Working Memory Training in Older Adults
O'Connell, Margaret A.
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It is currently not known what are the best working memory training strategies to offset the age-related declines in fluid cognitive abilities. In this randomized clinical double-blind trial, older adults were randomly assigned to one of two types of working memory training one group was trained on a predictable memory updating task (PT) and another group was trained on a novel, unpredictable memory updating task (UT). Unpredictable memory updating, compared to predictable, requires greater demands on cognitive control (Basak and Verhaeghen, 2011a). Therefore, the current study allowed us to evaluate the role of cognitive control in working memory training. All participants were assessed on a set of near and far transfer tasks at three different testing sessions before training, immediately after the training, and 1.5 months after completing the training. Additionally, individual learning rates for a comparison working memory task (performed by both groups) and the trained task were computed. Training on unpredictable memory updating, compared to predictable, significantly enhanced performance on a measure of episodic memory, immediately after the training. Moreover, individuals with faster learning rates showed greater gains in this episodic memory task and another new working memory task; this effect was specific to UT. We propose that the unpredictable memory updating training, compared to predictable memory updating training, may a better strategy to improve selective cognitive abilities in older adults, and future studies could further investigate the role of cognitive control in working memory training.