Working memory


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  • WM aids us in the learning process by providing temp. storage, the ability to manipulate info., and focus attention.
  • WM is a cognitive function essential to everyday life.One of the most well know theories of WM comes from Baddeley & Hitch’s research in the late 1960s. During this time memory was still regarded as a single unitary system. Baddeley & Hitch (among other researchers) argued otherwise and their dichotomous model of WM is still widely used today. Baddeley defines WM as:
  • WM has essentially replaced the term STM.Baddeley states it is the reliance on controlled attention that makes the 2 constructs different (empirically & theoretically)
  • One of the most widely know theories regarding the capacity of WM is George A. Miller’s classic 1956 study, The Magical Number Seven. Most researchers today agree Miller’s theory was overly simplistic. It is difficult to identify the true capacity of WM.We can easily put to test Miller’s theory in a simple free recall test. I will present you with a list of 17 “word concepts”. You will have 30 minutes to memorize these, after which I will ask you to recall as many as you can on the sheet provided. Is everyone ready?
  • Count up the number you have correct. How many people got between 5-9 words? Did anyone get any more (or less) than that?As you can see the number of correct words recalled varies from person to person. Individuals have different strategies for this type of task and is why Miller’s #7 is said to vary across tasks and individuals.
  • Before I explain how information is processed in WM, I will explain briefly how new information is acquired into memory. The modal model states that:Information from the environment (sensory input) enters sensory memory where it is held a very short time (a few seconds).If the information is attended to, it moves into WM. In the original modal model this area was labeled STM, but for our sake we will think of it as a WM store. If the incoming information reaches WM it is rehearsed here and will be encoded into LTM, if not the information is lost. WM also uses prior knowledge (hence the two way arrow). Retrieval of info from WM is a process of scanning the contents until the desired information is found. Ex. essay testAs you are answering an essay question you are using your WM. Perhaps you read over your study sheet just prior to the exam. This information will be available to your WM along with the information you’ve learned and stored in LTM.
  • Baddeley & Hitch’s model describes WM in terms of 3 separate parts: a control center (the CE) with 2 slave or storage systems (the sketchpad & phono. Loop)
  • This is commonly referred to as maintenance rehearsal (often takes the form of sub vocal speech). If a friend has ever given you a phone number and you didn’t have any way to write it down you are forced to put that number into your working memory. As many of you have probably experienced, it can be quickly lost. Repetition aids in retrieval of the information later when it is needed.
  • The PFC is where the processes of WM are thought to take place. THE PFC gets information from other parts of the cortex and holds it for immediate use. Because incoming information is varied the CE provides a way for us to switch between information from any of the senses. The basic job of the CE is to sort through previously stored information in LTM and incoming information being processed to come to a decision to the problem at hand.
  • Now that I have explained how WM functions, we can look at some examples of how WM is crucial in the learning process. WM (especially the CE) is the place where many processes important for learning, thinking, and behavior take place.These are just a few examples of where an individual would use their WM in an academic setting.
  • There is a lot of research pertaining to WM and the learning process. This research can especially be helpful to teachers who need to be aware of how information is acquired in order to teach that information in the most effective way. In Baddeley’s model modality specific stores are responsible for processing different types of information. If one system becomes overloaded (as in the case of the group with concurrent text) the visuo-spatial sketchpad becomes over worker- and therefore information is not acquired & articulated as effectively.
  • The author of the book also states that: WM has implications on the learning process. The way in which we process new information relies on our WM and is crucial to our success of the task at hand.
  • Working memory

    1. 1. Justine Muller July 29, 2009
    2. 2. “The brain system that provides temporarystorage and manipulation of the informationnecessary for complex cognitive tasks such aslearning, language comprehension, andreasoning” (Baddeley, 1992).
    3. 3.  Working memory is an active process where information is manipulated and processed, it is not stored here (only temporarily).  Working memory & short term memory are “highly related constructs”, but have important differences (Engle et. al, 326). Some research has shown a limit to the amount of information that can be processed.
    4. 4.  George A. Miller (1956) found that most individuals have the capacity to remember seven “units” plus or minus two. However, this number was found to be variable, depending on the task and the participants.
    5. 5. Write down as many words as you can remember.
    6. 6. The Modal ModelAtkinson & Shiffrin (1968)
    7. 7.  Central Executive: attention-controlling system.  Controls & monitors overall thinking and memory processes Two separate storage systems: 1. Visuo-spatial sketch pad: manipulates visual information. 1. Phonological loop: rehearses verbal information.  Can keep a small amount of auditory information fresh through repetition (Ormrod, 199).
    8. 8.  The prefrontal cortex gets information from other parts of the cortex and keeps it for available for immediate use. The central executive allows us to switch between information from any of the senses.  When you make a decision the CE is sorting & reasoning through previously stored information in LTM as well as new information being processed.
    9. 9.  Learning the alphabet Completing a puzzle Reading comprehension Mental arithmetic  Word problems Writing essays Studying for an exam Keeping focus/interest during a lecture
    10. 10.  Mayer and Moreno (1998) gave 78 psychology undergraduates a short lesson on meteorology  The lesson included pictures either with a concurrent narration or with concurrent on-screen text. On all three test conditions, the individuals in the narration group outperformed the other group.  These results are consistent with the predictions of the dual-processing hypothesis
    11. 11.  Having modality-specific mechanisms seems to help us “stretch” our working memory capacity (Ormrod, 199). We have an easier time performing two tasks at the same time when one task involves auditory information and the other task is visual in nature (Ormrod, 199).  In the previous study by Mayer & Moreno (1998), it was found students had better recall when pictures & words were presented in separate modalities.
    12. 12. Baddeley, A. (1992). Working memory. Science, 255, 556-559.Baddeley, A. D., & Hitch, G. J. (1974). Working memory. The psychology of learning and motivation, 8, 47-90.Engle, R.W., Tuholski, S.W., Laughlin, J.E., & Conway, A.R.A. (1999). Working memory, short-term memory, and general fluid intelligence: a latent variable approach. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 128, 309-331.Mayer, R.E. & Moreno, R. (1998). A split-attention effect in multimedia learning: Evidence for dual processing systems in working memory. Journal of Educational Psychology, 90, 312-320.Miller, G.A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review, 63, 81-97.Ormrod, J.E. (2004). Human Learning. Columbus, Ohio: Pearson.