Training and transfer effects of executive functions in preschool children


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    The children performed three of five tasks each day. Thus, for each task, there are data for 15 sessions and we included only 14 sessions in the graphs as several children were absent from preschool on at least one day.

Address for correspondence: Lisa B. Thorell, Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Division of Psychology, Karolinska Institutet, SE-171 77 Stockholm, Sweden; e-mail:


Executive functions, including working memory and inhibition, are of central importance to much of human behavior. Interventions intended to improve executive functions might therefore serve an important purpose. Previous studies show that working memory can be improved by training, but it is unknown if this also holds for inhibition, and whether it is possible to train executive functions in preschoolers. In the present study, preschool children received computerized training of either visuo-spatial working memory or inhibition for 5 weeks. An active control group played commercially available computer games, and a passive control group took part in only pre- and posttesting. Children trained on working memory improved significantly on trained tasks; they showed training effects on non-trained tests of spatial and verbal working memory, as well as transfer effects to attention. Children trained on inhibition showed a significant improvement over time on two out of three trained task paradigms, but no significant improvements relative to the control groups on tasks measuring working memory or attention. In neither of the two interventions were there effects on non-trained inhibitory tasks. The results suggest that working memory training can have significant effects also among preschool children. The finding that inhibition could not be improved by either one of the two training programs might be due to the particular training program used in the present study or possibly indicate that executive functions differ in how easily they can be improved by training, which in turn might relate to differences in their underlying psychological and neural processes.