Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Increased prefrontal and parietal activity after training of working memory


Working memory capacity has traditionally been thought to be constant. Recent studies, however, suggest that working memory can be improved by training. In this study, we have investigated the changes in brain activity that are induced by working memory training. Two experiments were carried out in which healthy, adult human subjects practiced working memory tasks for 5 weeks. Brain activity was measured with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) before, during and after training. After training, brain activity that was related to working memory increased in the middle frontal gyrus and superior and inferior parietal cortices. The changes in cortical activity could be evidence of training-induced plasticity in the neural systems that underlie working memory.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Prices vary by article type



Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Working memory task carried out during scanning in Experiment 2.
Figure 2: Increase in brain activity after working memory training (Experiment 1).
Figure 3: The effect of working memory training on performance and signal change (Experiment 2).
Figure 4: Regions where brain activity correlated with increased working memory capacity (Experiment 2; Table 1).


  1. Fry, A.F. & Hale, S. Processing speed, working memory, and fluid intelligence. Psychol. Sci. 7, 237–241 (1996).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Hale, S., Bronik, M.D. & Fry, A.F. Verbal and spatial working memory in school-age children: developmental differences in susceptibility to interference. Dev. Psychol. 33, 364–371 (1997).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Kyllonen, P.C. & Christal, R.E. Reasoning ability is (little more than) working memory capacity?! Intelligence 14, 389–433 (1990).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Engle, W.R., Kane, J.M. & Tuholski, S.W. Models of Working Memory (eds. Myake, A. & Shah, P.) 102–134 (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1999).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  5. Klingberg, T., Forssberg, H. & Westerberg, H. Increased brain activity in frontal and parietal cortex underlies the development of visuo-spatial working memory capacity during childhood. J. Cogn. Neurosci. 14, 1–10 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Rypma, B. & D'Esposito, M. Isolating the neural mechanisms of age-related changes in human working memory. Nat. Neurosci. 3, 509–515 (2000).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Pessoa, L., Gutierrez, E., Bandettini, P. & Ungerleider, L. Neural correlates of visual working memory: fMRI amplitude predicts task performance. Neuron 35, 975–987 (2002).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Gray, J.R., Chabris, C.F. & Braver, T.S. Neural mechanisms of general fluid intelligence. Nat. Neurosci. 6, 316–322 (2003).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Kwon, H., Reiss, A.L. & Menon, V. Neural basis of protracted developmental changes in visuo-spatial working memory. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 99, 13336–13341 (2002).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Rainer, G. & Miller, E.K. Effects of visual experience on the representation of objects in the prefrontal cortex. Neuron 27, 179–189 (2000).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Garavan, H., Kelley, D., Rosen, A., Rao, S.M. & Stein, E.A. Practice-related functional activation changes in a working memory task. Microsc. Res. Tech. 51, 54–63 (2000).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Jansma, J.M., Ramsey, N.F., Slagter, H.A. & Kahn, R.S. Functional anatomical correlates of controlled and automatic processing. J. Cogn. Neurosci. 13, 730–743 (2001).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Wexler, B.E., Anderson, M., Fulbright, R.K. & Gore, J.C. Preliminary evidence of improved verbal working memory performance and normalization of task-related frontal lobe activation in schizophrenia following cognitive exercises. Am. J. Psychiatry 157, 1694–1697 (2000).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. Klingberg, T., Forssberg, H. & Westerberg, H. Training of working memory in children with ADHD. J. Clin. Exp. Neuropsychol. 24, 781–791 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Swick, D. & Turken, A.U. Dissociation between conflict detection and error monitoring in the human anterior cingulate cortex. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 99, 16354–16359 (2002).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. Raichle, M.E. et al. Practice-related changes in human brain functional anatomy during nonmotor learning. Cereb. Cortex 4, 8–26 (1994).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. Klingberg, T. & Roland, P.E. Right prefrontal activation during encoding, but not during retrieval, in a non-verbal paired-associates task. Cereb. Cortex 8, 73–79 (1998).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. Fletcher, P., Buchel, C., Josephs, O., Friston, K. & Dolan, R. Learning-related neuronal responses in prefrontal cortex studied with functional neuroimaging. Cereb. Cortex 9, 168–178 (1999).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  19. Seitz, R.J., Roland, E., Bohm, C., Greitz, T. & Stone-Elander, S. Motor learning in man: a positron emission tomographic study. Neuroreport 1, 57–60 (1990).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. Jenkins, I.H., Brooks, D.J., Nixon, P.D., Frackowiak, R.S.J. & Passingham, R.E. Motor sequence learning: a study with positron emission tomography. J. Neurosci. 14, 3775–3790 (1994).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  21. Schneider, W. & Shiffrin, R.M. Controlled and automatic human information processing: I. detection, search, and attention. Psychol. Rev. 84, 1–66 (1977).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Karni, A. & Sagi, D. The time course of learning a visual skill. Nature 365, 250–252 (1993).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  23. Buonomano, D.V. & Merzenich, M.M. Cortical plasticity: from synapses to maps. Annu. Rev. Neurosci. 21, 149–186 (1998).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  24. Poldrack, R.A. & Gabrieli, J.D. Characterizing the neural mechanisms of skill learning and repetition priming: evidence from mirror reading. Brain 124, 67–82 (2001).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  25. Rypma, B. & D'Esposito, M. A subsequent-memory effect in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Brain Res. Cogn. Brain Res. 16, 162–166 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Duncan, J. & Owen, A.M. Common regions of the human frontal lobe recruited by diverse cognitive demands. Trends Neurosci. 23, 475–483 (2000).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  27. Klingberg, T. Concurrent performance of two working memory tasks: potential mechanisms of interference. Cereb. Cortex 8, 593–601 (1998).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  28. Kaplan, E., Fein, D. & Morris, R. & Delis, D. WAIS-R as a Neuropsychological Instrument (The Psychological Corporation, New York, 1991).

    Google Scholar 

  29. Raven, J.C. Advanced Progressive Matrices. Set II. (Oxford Psychol. Press, Oxford 1990).

    Google Scholar 

  30. Dodrill, C.B. A neuropsychological battery for epilepsy. Epilepsia 19, 611–623 (1978).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  31. Friston, K.J. et al. Statistical parametric maps in functional imaging: a general linear approach. Hum. Brain Mapp. 2, 189–210 (1995).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Wechsler, D. WAIS-R Manual (The Psychological Corporation, New York, 1981).

    Google Scholar 

  33. Kemps, E. Complexity effects in visuo-spatial working memory: implications for the role of long-term memory. Memory 9, 13–27 (2001).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references


We are grateful to J. Beckeman and D. Skoglund for programming and graphical design and M. Lindskog for the testing of control subjects. We would also like to thank J. Andersson for comments. This work was funded by The Swedish Research Foundation (Vetenskapsrådet), Frimurarna Barnahuset, Jeansson Stiftelse, Sällskapet Barnavård and Märta and Gunnar V. Philipsson's Stiftelse.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Pernille J Olesen.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

T.K. and H.W. own stock in Cogmed, the company that provided the software for training in Experiment 2. P.J.O does not have any competing interests.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Olesen, P., Westerberg, H. & Klingberg, T. Increased prefrontal and parietal activity after training of working memory. Nat Neurosci 7, 75–79 (2004).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing