Children who've had memory training have better abstract reasoning and solve problems more creatively than kids who haven't, the study found.

Training a child to hold a whole cluster of items in his or her memory for even a short time might feel like trying to hold a wave on the sand. But a study published June 13 says it’s a drill that can yield lasting benefits.

Children who’ve had such training have better abstract reasoning and solve problems more creatively than kids who haven’t, the study found.

But these drills, the scientists found, pay the greatest dividends for children who actually need them and who find the escalating challenge of the games fun, not frustrating.

For others, “it might be difficult if you push your kid too much,” said lead author Susanne M. Jaeggi, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan. “It’s like a parent pushing a child to do sports or learn a musical instrument: There’s always this delicate balance between too much or too little.”

The training program used by Jaeggi and her co-workers focused on ramping up working memory: the ability to hold in mind a handful of information bits briefly, and to update them as needed.

Cognitive scientists consider working memory a key component of intelligence. But they have long debated whether strengthening short-term memory capacity will boost a person’s overall intellectual function—and whether it will do so even after the brain-training sessions are over.

It can, and it does, according to this new research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study put 32 elementary and middle school children through a rigorous month-long regimen of computer games designed to test, challenge, and strengthen their working memory. An additional 30 children trained on a computer program that involved answering general knowledge and vocabulary questions.