Working Memory: A Overview

Working memory is the brain’s ‘post-it note’. It refers to our ability to remember and work with information. Scientific studies find that working memory is more important than IQ in determining success in the classroom.

Working memory difficulties are found in individuals with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). So the question is: if we improve working memory in those with ASD, can we expect to see improvements in learning indicators as well? The answer is Yes.

ASD and Working Memory

A bigger working memory (or bigger ‘post-it-note’) means that you have a better ability to remember and work with information. Individuals with ASD have a smaller ‘post-it-note’ compared to their peers. This means they find it challenging to remember instructions, words, and other language-related activities. As a result, they can end up falling behind their peers in the classroom.

Training working memory

We wanted to know whether we could increase the size of the post-it-note with a brain training programme called Jungle Memory. The Autistic Treatment Trust made a contribution in helping us find the answer.

Schools, parents, and students participated in a recent project run together with Dr. Tracy Alloway, Director of the Centre for Memory and Learning in the Lifespan at the University of Stirling. We now have the final results.

So what are the benefits of using Jungle Memory?

The results from the clinical trials are very exciting. This project found that students who used Jungle Memory 4x a week show significant improvements in many areas. For example, scores in tests of IQ and working memory improved dramatically at the end of the Training period. The improvements were so great that students who were lagging behind their peers in these scores have now caught up.

What is more, learning outcomes in tests of language and maths also improved! Teachers also noticed an improvement in the students’ performance. This finding is important as it shows that regular use of Jungle Memory makes a positive difference to grades as well.

Further details about the project

We employed clinical trials to evaluate the benefits of training working memory. This means that we included two different control groups to compare with the Jungle Memory training. One control group continued their schoolwork as usual, while another control group only used Jungle Memory 1x a week. All students were given the same standardised tests of IQ, working memory, and learning before and after training. The findings show that students with ASD who use Jungle Memory 4x a week show significant improvements compared to these other two control groups. The Figure below illustrates the improvement for the different groups.