Working memory training and transcranial electrical brain stimulation
Working memory training improves performance on trained and untrained working memory tasks, but there is little consistent evidence that these gains benefit everyday tasks that rely on working memory. Evidence has shown that transcranial electrical stimulation (tES) may be an effective tool for enhancing cognitive training and promoting transfer. In the first study, participants completed Cogmed working memory training with either active or sham transcranial random noise stimulation (tRNS). Training was associated with substantial gains on the training activities and on transfer measures of working memory with common processing and storage demands to the training tasks. tRNS did not enhance gains on trained or untrained activities. The second study systematically investigated the boundary conditions to training transfer by testing whether gains following backward digit recall (BDR) training transferred within- and across-paradigm to untrained backward recall and n-back tasks with varying degrees of overlap with the training activity. A further aim was to test whether transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) enhanced training and transfer. Participants were allocated to one of three conditions: (i) BDR training with active tDCS, (ii) BDR training with sham tDCS, or (iii) visual search control training with sham tDCS. The results indicated that training transfer is constrained by paradigm, but not by stimuli domain or stimuli materials. There was no evidence that tDCS enhanced performance on the training or transfer tasks. The results of Study 1 and Study 2 provide no evidence that tES enhances the benefits of working memory training. The absence of transfer between backward recall training and n-back in Study 2 suggested the tasks might tap into distinct aspects of working memory. Consequently, the final study used a latent variable approach to explore the degree of overlap between different forms of backward recall and n-back tasks containing digits, letters, or spatial locations as stimuli. The best-fitting factor model included two distinct but related (r = .68) constructs corresponding to backward recall and n-back. Both categories of task were linked to a separate fluid reasoning construct, providing evidence that both are valid measures of higher-order complex cognition. Overall, the experiments in this thesis suggest that working memory tasks tap into separate processes and that training may be targeting and improving these distinct processes, explaining the absence of cross-paradigm transfer.
Ewbank, Michael P.