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What is Working Memory? Can it Be Trained?

brain working memoryYou have prob­a­bly noticed the increas­ing amount of research and media cov­er­age focused on “work­ing mem­o­ry”. What is work­ing mem­o­ry? Why do we care? How can we best enhance it?

Work­ing mem­o­ry is the abil­i­ty to keep infor­ma­tion cur­rent in mind for a short peri­od, while using this infor­ma­tion for the task at hand. Work­ing mem­o­ry is sup­port­ed by regions of the frontal lobes (in blue here) and pari­etal lobes (in yel­low).

Let’s take a few con­crete exam­ples to under­stand in which sit­u­a­tions work­ing mem­o­ry is used.

working memory examplesSit­u­a­tion 1: You are just back from your cof­fee break and your col­league, who is run­ning in the hall­way to catch up with the boss, tells you that Mr. Brown just called and can see you either on the 18th at 2:30pm or on the 20th at 9am. Your brain holds on to that infor­ma­tion long enough so you can run to your office, fran­ti­cal­ly look for a pen and a piece of paper and even­tu­al­ly write it down. This is a per­fect exam­ple of suc­cess­ful work­ing mem­o­ry. This brain func­tion allows us to hold infor­ma­tion in mind while we need it to accom­plish a task.

working memory exampleSit­u­a­tion 2: You are talk­ing with your finan­cial advi­sor about your port­fo­lio. He keeps throw­ing num­bers and per­cent­ages at you. You try to fig­ure out whether fund X (5% return, 5.75% ser­vice fees upfront but no fee when you sell) is bet­ter for you than fund Y (4% return, no upfront fees, fees when you sell that decrease over the years). You try hard for a while to do some men­tal math and fig­ure out the big pic­ture, then your men­tal screen goes blank and you feel utter­ly con­fused. This is a per­fect exam­ple of work­ing mem­o­ry over­load!

How can I assess my work­ing mem­o­ry abil­i­ty? Does this abil­i­ty mat­ter for my every­day life, at work, school or home? Can work­ing mem­o­ry be trained? To help you find answers to these ques­tions and oth­ers we have pre­pared this Q & A: Enjoy!

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Q: What is the impact of work­ing mem­o­ry abil­i­ty on every­day life?

A: Learn more about the role of work­ing mem­o­ry in every­day life in Why work­ing mem­o­ry mat­ters in the knowl­edge age: study

Q: Do chil­dren with high­er work­ing mem­o­ry per­for­mance do bet­ter at school?

A: Work­ing mem­o­ry may in fact be a bet­ter pre­dic­tor of aca­d­e­m­ic suc­cess than IQ

A: 10% Stu­dents may have work­ing mem­o­ry prob­lems: Why does it mat­ter?

Q: How much does my work­ing mem­o­ry abil­i­ty affect how I think?

A: A lot! To fig­ure it out  Try Think­ing and Learn­ing With­out Work­ing Mem­o­ry

Q. Can work­ing mem­o­ry be trained?

A: Yes. For instance, one study shows that flu­id intel­li­gence can be improved thanks to work­ing mem­o­ry train­ing. Learn more by read­ing this inter­view with the author of the study.

Q: Can work­ing mem­o­ry train­ing help chil­dren with ADHD?

A: In this inter­view, Dr. Kling­berg explains how many stud­ies have shown that train­ing work­ing mem­ory is pos­si­ble and that such train­ing improves rea­son­ing abil­ity over­all and helps peo­ple with atten­tion deficits.

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Categories: Attention and ADD/ADHD, Cognitive Neuroscience, Education & Lifelong Learning, Health & Wellness

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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters and more, SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking health and performance applications of brain science.

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