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Working Memory

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.

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.