Working Memory

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[Working memory refers to the ability to hold a small amount of information in mind and work with it, often in the face of distraction. One aspect of working memory is the straightforward ability to retain information over short intervals—or short-term memory—a topic studied both in nonhuman animals and in humans. The paradigms used are necessarily different in the two cases, but the intent is to study how information is retained over short time periods. Working memory in humans is believed to involve verbal and nonverbal processes, perhaps with two types of capacity for working memory. Working memory capacity in humans seems to be related to general intelligence; some propose that the capacity to hold information in mind in spite of interference may underlie the concept of general intelligence.

The two sections here review work on the topic of working memory both inA nimalsand inH umans. Various species of animal show remarkable mnemonic abilities that are quite specialized. However, when experiments are conducted that compare as directly as possible animals with humans, often many features of performance (such as serial position curves) are similar. The first section covers such research with animal subjects; the second provides information conducted in both a behavioral and a neuroimaging tradition with human subjects.]