- Dual n-back method of brain
training more effective in improving working memory than the complex span
- "Dual n-back" is a
memory sequence test in which people must remember a constantly updating
sequence of visual and auditory stimuli.
- The next step is to determine why
this method of brain training is effective and how to improve the
technique to make it marketable, says study.
Out of the two commonly used brain
training methods used by scientists to improve memory and attention
, the dual n-back method was found to
effectively improve working memory than the complex span method, shows a study
conducted by a team of researchers at Johns Hopkins University. While the training method does not
make anyone smarter, it improves skills that people require to excel at school
and work. The findings of the study are published in the Journal of Cognitive
Working Memory and Brain Training Methods
Working memory is responsible for temporarily holding of information
available for processing.
New information in working memory is temporary; it gets either gets
stored in long-term memory or it decays and gets replaced. Unless it is
actively rehearsed, new information in working memory has a
short duration of around 10-15 seconds.
Dual n-back method:
The objective is to increase the
number of items one can hold in mind at one time, known as your "working
memory". The "dual n-back" is a memory sequence test in which
people must remember a constantly updating sequence of visual and auditory
In this study participants saw squares flashing on a grid while
hearing letters simultaneously. The test was to remember if the square they
just saw and the letter they heard were both the same as one round back. The
test was similar to the children's electronic game Simon, but instead of just
recalling sounds and colors, the current sequence and the one a few rounds back
had to be remembered.
‘Dual n-back exercise showed a 30 percent improvement in the working memory of people; the gains made by this method were nearly double the gains made by the group working with the complex span method.’
Complex span method:
The "complex span" method also involves remembering items in a
sequence but is relatively simpler than the dual n-back. There's a distraction
for people between the displays of items, but they do not need to continually
update the items in their mind.
Overview of the Study
Studies on cognition have had
mixed luck while trying to determine if brain training exercises improved
working memory. This particular study was aimed to prove that the idea of brain
training was not the problem; it was the type of exercise different studies
used to test working memory.
"People say cognitive training either works or doesn't work. We
showed that it matters what kind of training you're doing," said lead author
Kara J. Blacker.
The study directly
compared the leading types of exercises to improve working memory and measure
people's brain activity before and after training. Young adults were assembled into three groups
of participants and asked to take an initial battery of cognitive tests to
determine baseline working memory, attention and intelligence. An electroencephalogram (EEG)
taken to measure brain activity. Then, everyone was sent home to practice a
computer task for a month. One group used the dual n-back method brain exercise
while the second group used the complex span method. The third group practiced
on a control task.
The group that practiced the dual n-back exercise
showed a 30 percent improvement in working memory that was nearly double the
gains made by the group working with the complex span method. The dual n-back
method practicing group also showed significant changes in brain activity in
the prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain associated with higher learning.
- Johns Hopkins finds training exercise that boosts brain power - (https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-10/jhu-jhf101717.php)
- Blacker, K., Negoita, S., Ewen, J. & Courtney, S. N-back Versus Complex Span Working Memory Training. Journal of Cognitive Enhancement (2017). doi:10.1007/s41465-017-0044-1