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What Is Working Memory In Psychology

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The Functional Working Memory Model

Working Memory | Psychology | Chegg Tutors

The functional WM model of ADHD conceptualizes WM as a core deficit and endophenotype and provides a framework for investigating ADHD-related WM deficits . A central tenet of the model is that underlying heritable etiological factors such as slowed nerve growth factors and correspondingly reduced neurotransmitter functioning result in neural structure and functional deficits, respectively. Evidence for this can be seen in the 2.53-year delay in cortical maturation observed in children with ADHD via neuroimaging , as well as the excess slow wave and decreased fast wave activity in frontal/prefrontal regions that implicate cortical underarousal . Two interrelated phenomena result from these deficits: slowed cortical maturation results in an underdeveloped WM system, which is requisite for attention demanding activities such as reasoning, problem-solving, behavioral/interpersonal discourse regulation, and developing foundational knowledge competencies and frontal/prefrontal underarousal results in excessive gross motor activity to maintain alertness when children are faced with environmental presses that place clear demands on the CE and its multiple processes.

Daniel C. Miller, in, 2019

General Discussion And Future Direction

On the other hand, even though the roles of the prefrontal cortex in working memory have been widely established, region specificity and localization in the prefrontal cortex in relation to the different working memory domains such as manipulation or delayed retention of information remain at the premature stage . It has been postulated that the neural mechanisms involved in working memory are of high-dimensionality and could not always be directly captured and investigated using neurophysiological techniques such as fMRI, EEG, or patch clamp recordings even when comparing with lesion data . According to DEsposito and Postle , human fMRI studies have demonstrated that a rostral-caudal functional gradient related to level of abstraction required of working memory along the frontal cortex might exist. Other functional gradients relating to different aspects of working memory were similarly unraveled . These proposed mechanisms with different empirical evidence point to the fact that conclusive understanding regarding working memory could not yet be achieved before the inconsistent views are reconciled.

Role In Academic Achievement

Working memory capacity is correlated with learning outcomes in literacy and numeracy. Initial evidence for this relation comes from the correlation between working-memory capacity and reading comprehension, as first observed by Daneman and Carpenter and confirmed in a later meta-analytic review of several studies. Subsequent work found that working memory performance in primary school children accurately predicted performance in mathematical problem solving. One longitudinal study showed that a child’s working memory at 5 years old is a better predictor of academic success than IQ.

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Working Memory As Part Of Long

Anders Ericsson and Walter Kintsch have introduced the notion of “long-term working memory”, which they define as a set of “retrieval structures” in long-term memory that enable seamless access to the information relevant for everyday tasks. In this way, parts of long-term memory effectively function as working memory. In a similar vein, Cowan does not regard working memory as a separate system from long-term memory. Representations in working memory are a subset of representations in long-term memory. Working memory is organized into two embedded levels. The first consists of long-term memory representations that are activated. There can be many of theseâthere is theoretically no limit to the activation of representations in long-term memory. The second level is called the focus of attention. The focus is regarded as having a limited capacity and holds up to four of the activated representations.

Supporting Working Memory Through Strategies

Working memory

Classroom teachers can make small tweaks in the daily routine of the student to support their learning.

1. Detect working memory failures

Is the student struggling to keep up with their peers? Are they beginning to disengage from the activity? Are they acting out in frustration? Once you have identified these signs in a student, you can follow the next two recommendations.

2. Break down information

If an activity exceeds the working memory capacity of a student, they will be unable to complete the task.

3. Build long-term knowledge

This process can foster automaticity of knowledge in the student, which can ease the likelihood of working memory overload.

The following case studies illustrate how these steps can be implemented in a classroom setting.

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The Cognitive Neuroscience Of Working Memory

Annual Review of Psychology

Vol. 66:115-142 First published online as a Review in Advance on September 19, 2014

1Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720 email:

2Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53719 email:

Key Study: Baddeley And Hitch

Key Study: Baddeley and Hitch

Aim: To investigate if participants can use different parts of working memory at the same time.

Method: Conducted an experiment in which participants were asked to perform two tasks at the same time – a digit span task which required them to repeat a list of numbers, and a verbal reasoning task which required them to answer true or false to various questions .

Results: As the number of digits increased in the digit span tasks, participants took longer to answer the reasoning questions, but not much longer – only fractions of a second. And, they didn’t make any more errors in the verbal reasoning tasks as the number of digits increased.

: The verbal reasoning task made use of the central executive and the digit span task made use of the phonological loop.

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How Experts Use Chunks

Chunking is the secret behind acquiring mastery in any subject . This is because any kind of complex skill is essentially a huge chunk containing a large number of nested chunks.

Consider playing the piano: Playing the piano consists of many skills, such as sight reading, finger techniques, understanding of rhythm, pushing the pedals, and many others. Each of these skills also consists of further sub-skills. For example, sight reading requires the knowledge of keys, notes, scales and various musical symbols denoting rhythm and volume. For a novice player, doing all of these things at the same time is an impossible task. And yet expert musicians can play complex pieces with little effort, even by sight-reading only.

Expert musicians can play the piano with little effort precisely because they do not have to retrieve each individual skill separately. This would overload their working memory and make performance impossible. Instead, they retrieve one large chunk from their long-term memory that contains all of these sub-skills compressed within it. This saves precious working memory resources which can be devoted to processing other information such as sight-reading.

Therefore, to master any subject, you need to firstly build solid foundations of the basics . Only then can you attempt to form increasingly complex chunks.

Cognitive Load: The Culprit Behind Learning Difficulties

A-Level Psychology (AQA): Memory – The Working Memory Model

So far weve talked about various ways how you can reduce the load placed on your working memory in order to boost your comprehension and problem-solving skills. Scientists have developed a theory of cognitive load which explores in detail the different kinds of load that can be placed on working memory.

Cognitive load is defined as the effort used by the working memory system to process information. The main idea of the cognitive load theory is that working memory capacity is limited. If the working memory resources that are needed to process information are greater than your capacity, then you will fail to understand the information. Using our workbench analogy, this would be comparable to our carpenter trying work with too many tools and materials at the same time, which would start falling off the workbench as a result.

There are three types of cognitive load: Intrinsic, extrinsic and germane. All types of load are additive their sum makes up the overall load on your working memory.

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What Parts Of The Brain Are Important For Working Memory

The representation of different kinds of information in working memory seems to depend on parts of the cerebral cortex that are involved in the perception and long-term memory of those kinds of information. The prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain linked to cognitive control, is thought to play a key role in managing the current contents of working memory, regardless of type.

Binding And Working Memory Capacity

Concerning the relation between the first three working-memory task classes and the binding measures, the three theories make partly different predictions. From the executive-attention view, binding tasks are not different from short-term memory measures such as digit span and word span, which are assumed to require less control of attention than complex-span tasks and updating tasks. Therefore, the binding tasks should correlate less with the other three WMC task classes than these task classes correlate with each other. According to the two-component theory, correlations between tasks should reflect the relative contributions of SM and PM to each of them. Because in the binding tasks, short lists of pairs are presented briefly without intervening distraction, there is little time to encode them into SM. Moreover, the use of a small set of elements re-paired in each trial would create massive proactive interference in SM, so that reliance on SM is unlikely to be helpful. In this regard, the binding tasks are similar to the updating tasks that likewise must rely mostly on PM. Therefore, binding tasks should be more closely correlated with the updating tasks than with complex span, which arguably relies to a larger extent on SM.

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Types Of Memory In Psychology

Memory in psychology is defined as the persistence of learning. You can learn, recognize, and recall information. This shows your mind has an in-built storage system for information.

In this article, Ill briefly discuss the types of memory in psychology. Then, Ill explain them in detail in the next sections.

How To Optimize Cognitive Load

A Level Psychology

The third type of cognitive load is called germane. Germane load is the effort that you have to make to construct integrated chunks of information from the concepts in your study material. To successfully learn something, you need to devote some of your working-memory resources to germane load. To achieve this, you need to minimize the level of extrinsic load and optimize the level of intrinsic load .

How do you know which type of cognitive load is causing you problems? Researchers have developed a simple questionnaire that reliably tells apart between different types of cognitive load.

In essence, if you feel that the activity, the covered concepts, formulas or definitions are complex, then high intrinsic load is likely the culprit. However, if you feel that the instructions/explanations are unclear or ineffective, or full of unclear language, then the problem lies with high extrinsic load.

In summary, we recommend the following:

  • If your study material feels too complex, then you need to reduce your intrinsic load
  • If your study material feels unclear or confusing, then you need to reduce your extrinsic load
  • To reduce intrinsic load, use segmenting and sequencing or find some worked examples
  • To reduce extrinsic load, find study materials with clear language and modest graphics, and approach solving problems in a goal-free way

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What Can We Do About It

Studies show that most children with limitations to the capacity of their working memory dont catch up to their peers over time. Genes appear to play a role in having a poor working memory capacity but this is not well understood at this stage.

However, there are strategies that can help people use their working memory more efficiently:

  • Educate the person! Explain to them what is going on with their working memory and why they are having difficulty with certain tasks. Help them come up with quick one-liners that they can use if they need to ask for help or ask for things to be repeated.
  • Rehearse. Repeating the information to yourself can be a useful way to hold it in the forefront of the mind until the person has an opportunity to write things down. This can be especially useful when the person is asked to carry out a number of tasks in a row.
  • Manage distractions. The less distractions, the more likely the person is to be able to use rehearsal and other strategies without having their thought process interrupted. The student can be taught to recognise and avoid these distractions as much as possible.
  • Dont try to do too many things at once! This is all part of knowing your limitations. The student can be encouraged to tell others to slow down or to give less instructions at once to enable them to keep up.
  • Mnemonic strategies and other memory tricks. Make up a song or an acronym to help you remember often the more ridiculous, the better!
  • Experimental Studies Of Working

    There are several hypotheses about the nature of the capacity limit. One is that a limited pool of cognitive resources is needed to keep representations active and thereby available for processing, and for carrying out processes. Another hypothesis is that memory traces in working memory decay within a few seconds, unless refreshed through rehearsal, and because the speed of rehearsal is limited, we can maintain only a limited amount of information. Yet another idea is that representations held in working memory interfere with each other.

    Resource theories

    Resource theories assume that the capacity of working memory is a limited resource that must be shared between all representations that need to be maintained in working memory simultaneously. Some resource theorists also assume that maintenance and concurrent processing share the same resource this can explain why maintenance is typically impaired by a concurrent processing demand. Resource theories have been very successful in explaining data from tests of working memory for simple visual features, such as colors or orientations of bars. An ongoing debate is whether the resource is a continuous quantity that can be subdivided among any number of items in working memory, or whether it consists of a small number of discrete “slots”, each of which can be assigned to one memory item, so that only a limited number of about 3 items can be maintained in working memory at all.

    Interference theories


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    Localization In The Brain

    Localization of brain functions in humans has become much easier with the advent of brain imaging methods . This research has confirmed that areas in the PFC are involved in working memory functions. During the 1990s much debate has centered on the different functions of the ventrolateral and the dorsolateral areas of the PFC. A human lesion study provides additional evidence for the role of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in working memory. One view was that the dorsolateral areas are responsible for spatial working memory and the ventrolateral areas for non-spatial working memory. Another view proposed a functional distinction, arguing that ventrolateral areas are mostly involved in pure maintenance of information, whereas dorsolateral areas are more involved in tasks requiring some processing of the memorized material. The debate is not entirely resolved but most of the evidence supports the functional distinction.

    There is an emerging consensus that most working memory tasks recruit a network of PFC and parietal areas. A study has shown that during a working memory task the connectivity between these areas increases. Another study has demonstrated that these areas are necessary for working memory, and not simply activated accidentally during working memory tasks, by temporarily blocking them through transcranial magnetic stimulation , thereby producing an impairment in task performance.

    Effects Of Stress On Neurophysiology

    A Level Psychology – The Working Memory Model

    Working memory is impaired by acute and chronic psychological stress. This phenomenon was first discovered in animal studies by Arnsten and colleagues, who have shown that stress-induced catecholamine release in PFC rapidly decreases PFC neuronal firing and impairs working memory performance through feedforward, intracellular signaling pathways. Exposure to chronic stress leads to more profound working memory deficits and additional architectural changes in PFC, including dendritic atrophy and spine loss, which can be prevented by inhibition of protein kinase C signaling.fMRI research has extended this research to humans, and confirms that reduced working memory caused by acute stress links to reduced activation of the PFC, and stress increased levels of catecholamines. Imaging studies of medical students undergoing stressful exams have also shown weakened PFC functional connectivity, consistent with the animal studies. The marked effects of stress on PFC structure and function may help to explain how stress can cause or exacerbate mental illness.The more stress in one’s life, the lower the efficiency of working memory in performing simple cognitive tasks. Students who performed exercises that reduced the intrusion of negative thoughts showed an increase in their working memory capacity. Mood states can have an influence on the neurotransmitter dopamine, which in turn can affect problem solving.

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    Chunking Works By Reducing Memory Load

    Chunking reduces the load on working memory because it replaces the items in your working memory with items from your long-term memory. To see how it works, try the following experiment:

    Memorize the following list of 5 words . You have 5 seconds:

    large, run, tremble, believe, fish, series

    How many words did you remember?

    Now memorize another list of 5 words. You have 5 seconds:

    besar, berlari, gemetar, percaya, ikan, siri

    How many words did you remember now? Although the second list contained the same number of words , you probably remembered fewer words from the second list than from the first list. How is this possible?

    As an English speaker, you probably knew all the words from the first list. However, unless you speak Malay, you didnt know any of the words from the second list. The first list was easier precisely because you could use your pre-existing knowledge of English vocabulary stored in your long-term memory. You simply downloaded each word from your long-term memory as a chunk.

    In contrast, since you couldnt retrieve the Malay words from your long-term memory, you could only download smaller chunks from your long-term memory syllables or letters. As a result, there were many more pieces of information that had to be stored in your working memory from the second list.

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