Asymmetric negative transfer effects of working memory training.

Published version
Repository DOI

Change log
Gathercole, Susan E 
Norris, Dennis 
Saito, Satoru 

Gathercole et al. (Journal of Memory and Language, 105, 19-42, 2019) presented a cognitive routine framework for explaining the underlying mechanisms of working memory (WM) training and transfer. This framework conceptualizes training-induced changes as the acquisition of novel cognitive routines similar to learning a new skill. We further infer that WM training might not always generate positive outcomes because previously acquired routines may affect subsequent task performance in various ways. Thus, the present study aimed to demonstrate the negative effects of WM training via two experiments. We conducted Experiment 1 online using a two-phase training paradigm with only three training sessions per phase and replicated the key findings of Gathercole and Norris (in prep.) that training on a backward circle span task (a spatial task) transferred negatively to subsequent training on a backward letter span task (a verbal task). We conducted Experiment 2 using a reversed task order design corresponding to Experiment 1. The results indicated that the transfer from backward letter training to backward circle training was not negative, but rather weakly positive, suggesting that the direction of the negative transfer effect is asymmetric. The present study therefore found that a negative transfer effect can indeed occur under certain WM training designs. The presence of this asymmetric effect indicates that backward circle and backward letter tasks require different optimal routines and that the locus of negative transfer might be the acquisition process of such optimal routines. Hence, the routines already established for backward circle might hinder the development of optimal routines for backward letter, but not vice versa.


Acknowledgements: This research was supported by JSPS KAKENHI Grant Number JP20K20861. The English editing was supported by the Global Education Office, Graduate School of Education, Kyoto University. We thank Wenbo Wu for his advice on the programming of the experiment tasks. We are also grateful to Alice F. Healy for the constructive and insightful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.

Cognitive routine, Transfer effect, Working memory training, Humans, Memory, Short-Term, Transfer, Psychology, Cognitive Training, Learning, Task Performance and Analysis
Journal Title
Mem Cognit
Conference Name
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Springer Science and Business Media LLC