How To Improve Working Memory

How To Improve Working Memory
"Brain Power" by Allan Ajifo is licensed under CC BY 4.0

According to Gazzaniga, “The brain, like the rest of our bodies, acts on its own before we become consciously aware of its actions,” (The Ethical Brain pg 93).

This statement explains what the working memory does.

Working memory is the temporary storage and immediate retrieval system of the brain. It allows for focus, blocks out distractions, and is imperative to complete complex tasks and learning.

The working memory is used when we need access to information quickly over short periods of time. It is used when remembering grocery list items or recalling the rules of a game.

For hundreds of years, neuroscientists and psychologists believed the working memory could not be improved. Recent studies, however, have given merit to different methods of strengthening the brain’s ability to instantly retrieve information.

One’s working memory is responsible for accurately accessing information at any given moment. According to the American Psychological Association, it may be the basis for general intelligence and reasoning. By training the working memory we may be able to increase general intelligence as well.

Recent research has suggested that the brain’s ability to hold information can be strengthened in a number of ways including:

Brain Training

Brain training has become extremely popular.

Luminosity reports 60 million users are already exercising their cognitive abilities using their website.

The working memory is controlled by the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and other cognitive processes. Working these parts of the brain by performing repeated tests will naturally result in better working memory.

Numerous studies have shown a better working memory after brain training in cancer patients, the young, the elderly, and those with certain mental conditions. Additionally, a study performed by Joseph Hardy confirmed cognitive brain training resulted in improved accuracy and working memory for healthy, middle-aged adults. It appears everyone can benefit from training the brain.

Strategy Training

Strategy Training - Thinking Woman

This type of brain training teaches encoding, preservation, and retrieval from the working memory. The ability to control these various aspects allows for countless tasks.

To name a few:

  • Creative thinking
  • Planning
  • Problem solving
  • Retention and retrieval of information
  • Emotional regulation

Core Training

This type of training involves repeating working memory tasks. This training is dedicated to improving one specific area of cognitive function.

Examples include:

  • Speed
  • Visual Attention
  • Memory

Together, strategy and core training are shown to produce significant results in increase working memory. Simple games and apps can be created to perform the training. Games can be as simple as ignoring distractions or as complicated as keeping track of multiple pieces of information in your head.

By playing these captivating and challenging games, the working memory will see substantial improvement and the user will enjoy playing along.

This method of improving working memory is the most practical and enjoyable solution for the average person. Games which provide such strategy and core training are readily available, cheap, and pleasing to partake in. With relatively little time and effort, gamers can improve their brain functioning and enjoy a plethora of benefits.



Ritalin and Adderall, drugs commonly prescribed for ADHD, have different effects on people with normally functioning brains. This drug allows them better focus. According to the Journal of Neuroscience, the neurotransmitters that Ritalin affects are known to impact performance of the working memory in monkeys.

Research by Maia Szalavitz explains that such drugs are seen to have different effects on different people. They appear to have a leveling affect causing those who have the least ability to see the greatest improvements. Research on normally functioning brains, however, still did exhibit improvement on memory and even judgment.

The safety of using these medications for the purpose of improving working memory, however, has not been tested.

This is not a recommended way to effectively improve working memory, especially for those suffering from mental conditions.

Brain Stimulation

Brain Stimulation with Thinking Cap

Transcranial direct current stimulation is a proven method for improving working memory. This involves a low current being passed between electrodes and must always be performed by a professional.

Several studies have been executed involving this subject matter, and the results are clear.

Significant improvements are seen in:

Numerous studies can be cited to document the success of stimulation, but it is not a practical solution for the average person to improving working memory.

How to improve working memory

Considering all options, brain training through strategy and core training is the most practical and simple method to improve working memory. Several online sites and apps provide learning platforms dedicated to this purpose.

These companies include:

Additionally, countless individual app developers create brain games which mimic these popular companies’ products. Training your brain is as simple as playing an app on the phone for 15 minutes a day.

Benefits of Brain Training

Benefits of improving the working memory are as follows:

  • Better focus
  • Increased ability to resist distraction
  • Improved impulse control
  • Increased attention
  • Enhanced retention
  • Increased independence
  • Advancement in social skills
  • Better ability to plan

The advantageous consequences of brain training are infinite, as improving the working memory causes interactions between countless areas of the brain. According to proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, improving the working memory can improve the brain’s ability to independently solve new problems with old information. This ability alone can substantially improve one’s brain functioning and overall intelligence.

A less obvious advantage to stimulating and enhancing the brain’s working memory and general intelligence is improving self-worth and happiness. An improved mental capacity will lead to an increase in self-esteem especially in adolescents. The ability to independently complete tasks, engage in captivating conversation, and organize social events can be enhanced by remaining dedicated to training the brain.

Limitations of Brain Training

Though the benefits of brain training are numerous, there are limitations to this method.

To name a few limitations:

  • Most training methods are specific to certain skills
  • Repetition is required
  • Availability

To expand, the majority of brain training games, apps, and websites target specific cognitive functions and this does not generalize well into high-level critical thinking or problem solving.

Repeated, and most effectively daily, practice is a requirement if you expect to see results from brain training. Rapid decline in the acquired skills is observed when the user stops training. Dedication and consistency is essential for successful results.

Such games and apps are widely available, but this assumes the target audience (those who would benefit most from brain training) has access to these tools. Daily internet access is necessary and for the less fortunate this is not so easily attainable.


Though research in this field can be conflicting, general consensus leans in the direction that cognitive functions and working memory can be improved.

Brain stimulation is the most scientifically proven method to improving working memory, but the limitations of this method are too great.

Medication is increasingly proving to have positive results. The effectiveness and safety, however, to taking such stimulates have not been thoroughly examined.

The most practical and cost-effective solution is training your brain by utilizing online websites, games, and apps. This method has the least amount of scientific backing, but still remains the most logical option.

Less examined, though intriguing, methods have also shown to have encouraging results in working memory improvement. Meditation, for example, can increase focus and the ability to tune out distractions. In effect, this will increase working memory.

Benefits of improving working memory are countless, ranging from improving cognitive abilities to enhancing one’s self-worth and happiness. A few limitations apply to brain training, but the advantages far outweigh the limits of this method.

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    • Lee Couch

      There are great benefits of brain training