Research Topic

Improving working memory in learning and intellectual disabilities

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The last forty years of research have demonstrated that working memory (WM) is a key concept for understanding higher order cognition. For example WM is involved in reading comprehension, problem solving and reasoning, but also in a number of everyday life activities. Its role is clear also when atypical ...

The last forty years of research have demonstrated that working memory (WM) is a key concept for understanding higher order cognition. For example WM is involved in reading comprehension, problem solving and reasoning, but also in a number of everyday life activities. Its role is clear also when atypical development is considered. For example a large amount of studies showed an impairment in working memory both in individuals with learning and intellectual disabilities. Moreover several researchers have hypothesized that this can be liked to their difficulties in learning, cognition and everyday life.
The last challenge in the field refers to the trainability of WM. If WM is a central construct for understanding cognition in typical and atypical development, it might be hypothesized that sustaining WM performance, with specific intervention, would promote changes also in cognitive processes associated to WM. The idea that WM can be modified is however a topic of debate, both considering the theoretical implications of this view and the results generally contradictory obtained so far. In fact most studies converge in demonstrating specific effects of working memory training, i.e. the increase in the trained task, but few transfer effects to allied cognitive processes are generally reported. It is to note, the maintenance effects are even more meager, when investigated. In addition a number of methodological concerns have been raised in relation to the use of: 1. single tasks to assess the effects of a training program; 2. WM tasks, different from those used in training, to evaluate WM training effects; 3. noncontact control groups.
These and other critical points so far do not allow to draw conclusions about the efficacy of WM training. Considering that the idea that WM can be trained could have a large impact in educational and clinical context, it appears fundamental to shed more light on the limits and the potentiality of this stream of research.
The aim of the research topic is to bring new evidences on the possibility to train WM in the conditions of learning and intellectual disabilities. Several could be the questions in this field: firstly can working memory be trained in this population? In particular are there WM aspects that can be trained more easily than others? can a working memory training decrease the impact of learning and intellectual disabilities on learning outcomes? And on everyday life context? what kind of training program is best suited to promote these changes?


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