No evidence of intelligence improvement after working memory training: A randomized, placebo-controlled study

Thomas S. Redick, Zach Shipstead, Tyler L. Harrison, Kenny L. Hicks, David E. Fried, David Z. Hambrick, Michael J. Kane, Randall W. Engle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

492 Scopus citations


Numerous recent studies seem to provide evidence for the general intellectual benefits of working memory training. In reviews of the training literature, Shipstead, Redick, and Engle (2010, 2012) argued that the field should treat recent results with a critical eye. Many published working memory training studies suffer from design limitations (no-contact control groups, single measures of cognitive constructs), mixed results (transfer of training gains to some tasks but not others, inconsistent transfer to the same tasks across studies), and lack of theoretical grounding (identifying the mechanisms responsible for observed transfer). The current study compared young adults who received 20 sessions of practice on an adaptive dual n-back program (working memory training group) or an adaptive visual search program (active placebo-control group) with a no-contact control group that received no practice. In addition, all subjects completed pretest, midtest, and posttest sessions comprising multiple measures of fluid intelligence, multitasking, working memory capacity, crystallized intelligence, and perceptual speed. Despite improvements on both the dual n-back and visual search tasks with practice, and despite a high level of statistical power, there was no positive transfer to any of the cognitive ability tests. We discuss these results in the context of previous working memory training research and address issues for future working memory training studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)359-379
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2013


  • Attention
  • Intelligence
  • Multitasking
  • Training
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychology(all)
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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