Tappy Memo

Tappy Memo is a powerful memory training system that can increase a users IQ by up to 10 points in as little as 15 minutes a day for 12 weeks. It also has the added benefit of increasing focus, attention, inhibition control and working memory. 

Tappy Memo is a general purpose app that can be used by young children, school students, university students, professionals, patients and the elderly. It increases cognitive abilities and strengthens neural pathways using a simple memory game similar to the card game 'Concentration'. 

The core game system used by Tappy Memo is called N-back, which has been slightly modified to increase training efficiency. N-back has a 70 year history and extensive research and validation has been invested into the system. 

The majority of scientific literature and research on N-back agrees that it does provide great benefits in even limited use. 

Tappy Memo has converted the N-back system into a digital game platform which is fun, while boosting cognitive abilities.

Tappy Memo is available on the Google Play store.  

Science of N-Back

N-back is a continuous performance task in which a subject is presented with stimuli and has to indicate when the current stimulus matches the one from N steps back earlier in the sequence.[1] N-back began as an assessment and diagnostic tool for working memory, but has also become a powerful training tool. N-back can use any range of stimulus including colours, numbers, letters, grids, sounds and images. Theoretically, a subject could use N-back for any sense, including taste, touch and smell, but a repeatable system for these senses would be more difficult to administer. N-back works by loading working memory in a continuous task, which challenges various parts of the brain. The nature of the N-back task, based on the system used, also increases attention, focus and inhibition-control, which bleed over into other areas of intelligence giving subjects an overall cognitive boost in many related parts of the brain.
Kay (1951) first experimented with the idea of N-back as a cognitive diagnostic tool for short-term memory retention while he was exploring the differences in memory between younger and older test subjects. [2] Kay developed the initial structure for N-back in an unpublished dissertation in 1953 on the effects of aging and fatigue on human performance.[3] [4]

In 1958, Wayne Kirchner engaged in a study to measure short-term memory retention in the field of aging.[5] In his experiment, he used a simple light-board with a continuous performance task to measure three groups of people, students, Navy sailors and retired pensioners. Kirchner's light-board was the first model of N-back that would lay the foundation of short-term and working memory diagnostics and training in the future.

N-back primarily increases the capacity and efficiency of working memory. Working memory is a cognitive system responsible for holding, processing and manipulation of information. Working memory is distinct from short-term memory, which is evident by the different neural sub-systems they use. Working memory is a short-term memory buffer that allows the manipulation of stored information, while short-term memory is only involved in the short-term storage of information, which does not entail manipulation or organisation of material, held in memory. In 1956, Miller suggested that working memory had a limited capacity and was only able to hold up to seven 'chunks' of information at a time. Although working memory is limited in capacity, strategies such as chunking, encoding information into smaller parts can increase the storage capabilities of working memory.

Working memory correlates strongly with academic success, but is not dependant on general intelligence. In other words, working memory makes learning more efficient and grants benefits in the completion of cognitive tasks, which may influence intelligence testing. There is a strong correlation between poor academic performance and working memory deficits, which is independent of intelligence quotient (IQ). N-back addresses the issue of working memory and intensive training can lead to an increase of IQ and learning efficiency due to bleed effects.

The effectiveness of N-back on working memory is also due in part to its effects on the brain. Cells within the nervous system are neurons and communicate with each other in specialised ways. The neuron is the basic working unit of the brain designed to transmit information to other nerve cells, muscles or gland cells. Each neuron consists of a cell body, dendrites and an axon.  The cell body contain a nucleus and cytoplasm. The axon extends from the cell body with smaller branches, which end at nerve terminals. Dendrites extend from the neuron cell body and receive messages from other neurons. Synapses are the contact points where one neuron communicates with another. Dendrites are covered with synapses formed by the ends of axon from other neurons. When neurons receive of send messages, they transmit electrical impulses along their axons. Axons are covered with a layered myelin sheath, which accelerates the transmission of electrical signals along the axon. This myelin sheath increases in density every time signals travel along the axon. The N-back task activates parts of the brain and generates a continuous activity in isolated cognitive areas, which increase the efficiency of the neurons in this area. N-back is a focused training system for specific parts of the brain, which lead to increased cognitive gains in other areas through a bleed effect.

In recent years, there has been an intensive study of the neurobiology involved with the N-back task. [6] The effects of N-back on the brain are complex and the meta-analysis by Owen et al. shows that the task activates certain parts of the brain including: lateral premotor cortex; dorsal cingulate and medial premotor cortex; dorsolateral and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex; frontal poles; and medial and lateral posterior parietal cortex.

The premotor cortex of the brain is generally responsible for using information from other cortical regions to select movements appropriate to the context of an action.[7] The majority of the neurons in the lateral premotor cortex respond to occurrences in movement and are strongly associated with movements made in a certain direction. These neurons are especially important in conditional motor tasks. The neurons in the lateral premotor cortex appear to encode the intention to perform a particular movement, thus they seem to be particularly involved in the selection of movements based on external events. The medial premotor cortex, like the lateral area, mediates the selection of movements. This region however seems to be specialised for initiating movements specified by internal, rather than external cues. The medial premotor cortex seems to be responsible for spontaneous or self-initiated movements.  

The dorsal cingulate refers to a subregion of the anterior cingulate cortex. Research into the cingulate cortex is still ongoing and there are several different hypotheses on its purpose. Experimental research shows that lesions or damage to the dorsal cingulate affects executive control, which is a set of cognitive processes including attention control, inhibitory control, working memory and cognitive flexibility.[8] This may explain why playing N-back has a strong response in this area of the brain. It also explains why focus, attention and inhibition control increase as a subject trains their working memory.

The dorsolateral and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, DLPFC and VLPFC respectively, are one of the most recently evolved parts of the human brain. Like the anterior cingulate cortex, the prefrontal cortex is responsible for executive functions, attention and memory. The primary function of the DLPFC is cognitive processes, including working memory, cognitive flexibility and planning. Secondary functions include decision-making, deception and conflict-induced behavioural adjustment. The primary function of the VLPFC is motor inhibition, updating action plans and responding to decision uncertainty. Scans of the human brain undertaking N-back tasks show strong reactions in both hemispheres of the prefrontal cortex.

The frontal poles relate to Brodmann area 10. It is an extensive region in the human brain and modern neuroscience still has a poor understanding of its functions. Baddeley's model of working memory postulates that the frontopolar cortex is involved in central executive processes, which may be why there is a strong response in this area when subjects undertake the N-back task.
 The medial and lateral posterior parietal cortexes play an important role in planned movements, spatial reasoning and attention. It is also involved in learning motor skills related to perception, memory and spatial relationships. Scans during N-back activity show weaker reactivity in this area of the brain.

N-back and by extension Tappy Memo is an effective tool for diagnosing and training working memory. It also has many side benefits, induced by training those areas of the brain responsible for working memory. The added benefit of N-back is also addressing neurological disorders and diseases which affect the brain, but that is outside the scope of this article.

I hope you have gained a better understanding of N-back and the cognitive benefits of Tappy Memo. For more information or research relating to working memory please have a look at the notes that are attached.

[1] Gazzaniga, M.S., Ivry, R.B. and Mangun, G.R. 2009. "Cognitive Neuroscience: The Biology of the Mind." 2nd ed.

[2] Kay, H. 1951. "Learning of a serial task by different age groups." The Quarterly Journal Of Experimental Psychology 3, 166-183.

[3] Kane, M. and Conway, A. 2016. "The invention of n-back: An extremely brief history." The Winnower. 3:e146722.26397 (2016). 

[4] Welford, A. T. 1958. “Ageing and human skill.” Glasgow: Oxford University Press.
[5] Kirchner, Wayne K. 1958. "Age differences in short-term retention of rapidly changing information." Journal Of Experimental Psychology 55, no. 4: 352-358.

[6] Owen, A. M., McMillan, K. M., Laird, L. A. and Bullmore, E. 2005. "N-back working memory paradigm: A meta-analysis of normative functional neuroimaging studies." Human Brain Mapping 55, no. 1: 46-59.

[7] Purves D., Augustine G. J., Fitzpatrick D., Katz L.C, LaMantia A-S., McNamara J. O. and Williams S. M. 2001. "Neuroscience." 2nd edition. Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates.

[8] Critchley, H.D. 2005. "Neural mechanisms of autonomic, affective, and cognitive integration". J Comp Neurol. 493, no 1: 154–66.


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