Working Memory Training Is Associated with Lower Prefrontal Cortex Activation in a Divergent Thinking Task
Oshin Vartanian, Marie-Eve Jobidon, Fethi Bouak, Ann Nakashima, Ingrid Smith, Quan Lam, Bob Cheung
Working memory (WM) training has been shown to lead to improvements in WM capacity and fluid intelligence. Given that divergent thinking loads on WM and fluid intelligence, we tested the hypothesis that WM training would improve performance and moderate neural function in the Alternate Uses Task (AUT)—a classic test of divergent thinking. We tested this hypothesis by administering the AUT in the functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner following a short regimen of WM training (experimental condition), or engagement in a choice reaction time task not expected to engage WM (active control condition). Participants in the experimental group exhibited significant improvement in performance in the WM task as a function of training, as well as a significant gain in fluid intelligence. Although the two groups did not differ in their performance on the AUT, activation was significantly lower in the experimental group in ventrolateral prefrontal and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex—two brain regions known to play dissociable and critical roles in divergent thinking. Furthermore, gain in fluid intelligence mediated the effect of training on brain activation in ventrolateral prefrontal cortex. These results indicate that a short regimen of WM training is associated with lower prefrontal activation—a marker of neural efficiency—in divergent thinking.