Doing math in the head without "tricks", like on a blackboard, could increase WM?

As far as I know:

Visualizing things in the mind needs the intensive use of working memory, since you need to be constantly updating and maintaining the image in your mind.

That is why people with hyperaphantasia have better working memory and that is one of the factors that allow them to have the ability to hold large images with all their details in their mind.

That’s why I am surprised, there is no (or at least I have found), any study that analyzes the effects that there is to train the working memory doing mental math in your “mental board”.

I think it could be a good exercise, I at least notice that the dual n back (another WM exercise) along with this exercise after some time of practicing makes my head hurt due to the great mental effort and the workload in the WM you have to do to maintain and update all the elements in your head.

What do you think, could this be a good exercise to train working memory, has anyone found a study or know why this would not work, etc? I would like to know your opinion, thank you very much.

Pd: I know that my data is not founded and I have not provided any source, and there may be logical flaws in the premises that I have done, but it was simply an idea that came to my mind and wanted to share. Also, I hope you will forgive my English :smiley:


Según lo que tengo entendido:

Visualizar cosas en la mente necesita el uso intensivo de la memoria de trabajo, ya que necesitas estar constantemente actualizando y manteniendo la imagen en tu mente.

Por eso las personas con hiperaphantasia tienen mejor memoria de trabajo y eso es uno de los factores que le permiten tener la capacidad de aguantar grandes imágenes con todos sus detalles en la mente.

Por eso me extraña, no hay (o al menos que haya encontrado) , ningun estudio que analize los efectos que hay entrenar la memoria de trabajo haciendo matemáticas mentales en tu “pizarra mental”.

Creo podria ser un buen ejercicio, yo al menos noto que el dual n back (otro ejercicio de WM) junto con este ejercicio después de un tiempo practicando hace que me de dolor de cabeza debido gran esfuerzo mental que tienes que hacer para mantener y actualizar todos los elementos en tu cabeza.

Que pensais , podría ser este un buen ejercicio para entrenar la memoria de trabajo , alguien ha encontrado algún estudio o sabe porque esto no podría funcionar, etc? Me gustaría saber vuestra opinión, muchas gracias .

Pd: se que mis datos no están fundamentados ni tampoco he aportado ninguna fuente,y puede haber fallos lógicos en las premisas que he hecho , pero era simplemente una idea que se me vino a mi la mente y la quería compartir. Además , espero que perdonen mi inglés :3

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The thing with braintraining is that it only improves 1 task. Many studies have confirmed this.

Doing 2x2 multiplications daily might increase your digit span with 1 or 2 digits but it won’t increase anything else. The amount of pictures or letters or symbols or words etc you can hold in your head will remain the same unless you train those things too.

Another downside is that you need to keep training or your brain will go back to your original performance.


That is, if my maximum number of numbers I can keep in my head is 8, if I train by doing multiplications that are very close to my limit or exceed it a little.

It would mean that my digital span task would improve over time, but my working memory would not?

I didn’t understand your answer very well, did you mean it?

Sorry, I left the answer below this comment , I forgot to mark as “reply”

As albinoblanke mentioned, training one aspect of brain power is generally thought not to increase it in other ways. There are lots of “brain training” resources promising to make you “think 10x faster!!!” etc., but they don’t have good evidence supporting them.

When I train mental calculation, I do think a lot in terms of the working memory, but mostly using the assumption that our “hardware” is fixed. However you are able to improve how you think about numbers to be more efficient with the working memory. This includes upgrading your methods (and “tricks”) as well as how you visualize numbers and use your inner monologue (hint: usually best to bypass your inner monologue when doing mental math).

By training something near the your limits, you will surely improve, but the main benefit will be from “software” improvements rather than increasing the hardware (VSS etc.) This improvement will then translate to other applications if they require similar processing of information.

Related: I’ve done some workshops about working memory in mental calculation, sometimes with other top human calculators in the audience. During demonstrations, they would typically be able to store 8-9 digits in their inner monologue, which is only slightly more than the general average (6-8).


I understand, thank you very much for your explanation, it couldn’t be clearer Daniel :wink:

I had a lot of interest in the topic of working memory. And I can say that it cannot be improved. In addition, there is no evidence that there are people with more working memory than usual. After all, we don’t even know what it really is. Chess players have an increased volume of working memory for chess moves. Mental calculators for numbers. But one way or another, their results on other tests were no better than average. After all, the effect of increasing working memory was achieved through the use of long-term memory and a set of patterns that allow you to think in whole blocks of information.

Smart people with very large working memory tend to be more chunking than ordinary people.
If you really want to increase your working memory, practice using abstraction and abstract images. Any subject can be associated with an association that reflects its essence. And use this image in the thought process.

This method of thinking has always been natural for humans. This is proved by mathematicians, who by the term sets mean a whole set of numbers that would overload the most powerful modern computer.

Good luck with your training!


Thank you very much for your answer, I will have to read more about chuncking, I have a very vague idea of what it is, and that seems that along with mnemonics is the only way to improve.

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There might not be any study to confirm it scientific but there are people with more working memory than usual.

Some while ago I had to take an IQ test by a psychologist for a diagnosis for autism. Most results of the subtests were above average, some average and 1 was even below average. There was 1 result that stood out from all the rest. I was told that my working memory was above and beyond average.

While most of my results were around 120, my working memory was 130 to 140 which was the limit of the test.
It made sense. I said that one of the big things that made me different from others is my memory, at least that is what I had experienced throughout my life.

I can do 5 by 5 multiplications in my head but I can also recall 26 random pictures in order in 60 seconds on memory league. My working memory is on all fields way above average but numbers probably the highest.

Perhaps there aren’t many with a working memory that is both above average and allrounded, Kim peek and John von Neumann are a few that I have found, but there are some people.


Hi! I glad to read your comment. Now I entered the institute at the Faculty of Biology to study biochemistry and fulfill my dream of becoming a neurobiologist. Unfortunately, in Ukraine there is no such education as neurobiology, so you must first get a degree in biology, physiology or psychology.
Now I am trying to improve my knowledge in the field of chemistry and physics. I will have a lot of hours of these subjects. Therefore, I have very little time left to reply to the forum.

As for working memory. I meant it, there are people whose results are much better. But no connection has been established with the neuroanatomy of the brain.
Several years ago I read about scientific research on mental calculators.
Their working memory for numbers was much larger than usual, but it didn’t necessarily work for words, random syllables, symbols, etc.
In addition, their long-term memory for numbers was also an order of magnitude better than usual. Therefore, it is quite possible that they used the resource of their long-term memory to keep numbers in mind.

In the end of his 15-year research on Alexander Craig Atkein, Ian Hunt was leaning towards this.
Aitkane’s memory was truly impressive. This applied to both long-term and working memory.
But Hunt discovered that Aitkein’s abilities were directly dependent on chunking.
He perceived numbers in blocks of five digits. And each block is associated with some kind of sound. Then he put them into a whole symphony. It was a kind of sound mnemonic that he invented on his own.
There is no doubt that he used the resource of his long-term memory for mental calculations.

As far as I remember, this also applies to you. You remember all the cartoons you watched. Easily memorize long number rows, etc.

As for Kim Peak. No, he’s a wrong example. I once had a conversation on this topic with Dr. Boris Konrad. Many scientists have a question about whether Kim Peak had a working memory in the classical sense of the word.
So he was absolutely powerless in logical tasks for abstract thinking. As a rule, it is the ability to solve problems in the mind that is associated with a working memory. And Peak’s long-term memory was more like a garbage can. It is possible that he did not have any filter in the form of short-term memory.
Its ability is explained by verbal adhesion, which is often found in mentally disabled people.


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Useful, thanks.