Working memory is a form of memory that allows a person to temporarily hold a limited amount of information at the ready for immediate mental use. It is considered essential for learning, problem-solving, and other mental processes.
How We Use Working Memory
Making use of working memory is like temporarily pinning up certain images or words to a board so they can be moved or manipulated in some other way. The ability to keep certain details “at hand,” including those we haven’t committed to long-term memory, supports a variety of day-to-day mental functions.
What are some examples of working memory?
Recalling the earlier part of a sentence to understand a later part, holding a number in mind while doing a math problem in one’s head, remembering where an object was just seen, and keeping multiple concepts in mind in order to combine them have been described as examples of working memory.
Why is working memory important?
Working memory is believed to support many kinds of mental abilities at a fundamental level. It allows one to retain multiple pieces of information for use in the moment, which is essential to activities from reading or having a conversation to learning new concepts to making decisions between different options.
What are some distinct features of working memory?
While long-term memory can store a huge amount of information, the amount of details contained for ready usage in working memory is thought to be relatively limited. There are differing models of the working memory system. Some have argued that it includes multiple components that handle different kinds of information and are distinct from long-term memory. Others propose that working memory represents a part of long-term memory that is especially activated and a smaller part that is the focus of attention.
How much information can be held in working memory?
Though the limits are debated, some scientists have suggested that when people aren’t able to use tactics like repeating details out loud, they may be able to keep just a few items in focus at a time. Those items can be simple or complex—including individual letters or numbers to be remembered as well as larger “chunks” of information (such as acronyms like “USA” and “UK,” and even more complex concepts).
How Working Memory Works
Virtually everyone seems to put working memory to work throughout the day, but the performance of this memory system (or “working memory capacity”) is stronger in some individuals than in others—with implications for a person’s ability to learn and function.
What parts of the brain are important for working memory?
The representation of different kinds of information (such as visual or or verbal details) 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.
Is working memory related to intelligence?
Research shows that measures of an individual’s working memory ability are strongly related to measures of intelligence—particularly an aspect called fluid intelligence, which is involved in solving novel problems.
How does working memory change with age?
Measures of working memory suggests that it typically improves throughout childhood. Working memory tends to decline in older age, research suggests—though it may begin to gradually decrease after early adulthood. It has been proposed that later working-memory decline may help account for age-related declines on other kinds of cognitive tasks.
How is working memory measured?
Individual differences in working memory ability can be assessed using a range of tasks. Among them are “working memory span” tasks in which a person tries to, for example, read through sentences while remembering particular words from each. Another type of measure is an “n-back” task, in which one sees or hears a sequence of items and has to indicate when the current item matches a previous one. In a 2-back version, for instance, if the letters P, S, T, H, A, F were followed by an A, one would indicate that it matched what came two letters back. N-back task performance doesn’t necessarily correlate strongly with performance on other working memory tasks, and they may measure different components of working memory.