2nd Edition

Chapter 4

Interactive exercise



Term used to refer to the linking of features into objects (e.g. color red, shape square, into a red square), or of events into coherent episodes.
Recollection of something that did not happen.
Episodic buffer:
A component of the Baddeley and Hitch model of working memory model that assumes a multidimensional code, allowing the various subcomponents of working memory to interact with long-term memory.
A general term applied to mechanisms that suppress other activities. The term can be applied to a precise physiological mechanism or to a more general phenomenon, as in proactive and retroactive interference. The level of activation associated with a trace is actively reduced to diminish its accessibility.
Levels of processing:
The theory proposed by Craik and Lockhart that asserts that items that are more deeply processed will be better remembered.
Nonword repetition test:
A test whereby participants hear and attempt to repeat back nonwords that gradually increase in length.
Object memory:
System that temporarily retains information concerning visual features such as colour and shape.
Resource sharing:
Use of limited attentional capacity to maintain two or more simultaneous activities.
Semantic coding:
Processing an item in terms of its meaning, hence relating it to other information in long-term memory.
Spatial working memory:
System involved in temporarily retaining information regarding spatial location.
Supervisory attentional system (SAS):
A component of the model proposed by Norman and Shallice to account for the attentional control of action.
Task switching:
A process whereby a limited capacity system maintains activity on two or more tasks by switching between them.
Visuo-spatial sketchpad:
A component of the Baddeley and Hitch model that is assumed to be responsible for the temporary maintenance of visual and spatial information.


Research activity: the phonological loop

Imagine this scenario: You are out with friends one evening and you meet an individual that you like. At the end of the evening they give you their phone number and ask you to ring them the next day, and then disappear into the night.

You’ve forgotten your phone and you don’t have a pen or paper; your friends have wandered off and you’re stuck. What do you do? Your only option is to try to remember the number.

07999 11674

What do you do? What will help you remember?

You’ve probably guessed that the best way to attempt to remember the number until you get home and can write it down is by rehearsal (or repeating it again and again). This will greatly increase your chances of remembering it and meeting this individual again.

When rehearsing the number you are using your phonological loop. This is basically a form of verbal short-term memory, but it also helps information to be stored in our permanent memory store of long-term memory.


A series of videos in which Alan Baddeley talks about the working memory model.[0]=field_interviewee%3A4
An interview with Fergus Craik.
A demo to test your working memory capacity.
A visual working memory demonstration from Steve Luck’s lab.
Videos about CogMed.
A series of videos where Michael Posner talks about what we can learn from modern neuroscience research in attention.[0]=field_interviewee%3A1130
Fletcher and Henson (2001): A discussion of the role played by the frontal lobes in memory from a neurological and psychological viewpoint.

Please find below biographies of three important researchers in the field of memory: Susan E. Gathercole, Nelson Cowan, and Randall “Randy” W. Engle.

Susan E. Gathercole

Personal history

Susan Gathercole was born on August 12, 1958 in Macclesfield, England. She received her honors undergraduate psychology degree at the University of York in 1979 before continuing her studies at City University, where she would receive her Ph.D. for work on short-term memory in 1983. She took a postdoctoral position at the University of Oxford between 1982 and 1984, while she investigated selective attention. In 1984, Gathercole began a 4-year period in which she was a Research Scientist at the MRC Applied Psychology Unit at Cambridge University, facilitating her study of short-term memory and language learning in children.

From there, she moved to Lancaster University in 1988 as a lecturer before becoming a Reader in Psychology at the University of Bristol in 1993, and a professor 2 years later. In 2001, Susan made another move to the University of Durham, where she remained until 2006. She currently is the Head of Psychology at the University of York and is a part of the core staff of the Centre for Working Memory and Learning, along with Alan Baddeley, Graham Hitch, and Tracy Alloway.

Gathercole is a Chartered Psychologist of the British Psychological Society and is the founding editor, with Martin Conway, of the journal Memory. In 1989, Gathercole received the Spearman Medal for Outstanding Early Career Research, which was followed by the President’s Award for Distinguished Contribution to Psychological Knowledge in 2007.


Gathercole has been researching the cognitive processes underlying short-term and working memory, with an eye toward building an understanding of how these two memory systems support language learning and reading during childhood development. She has incorporated eye-tracking technology in her research to study the binocular coordination of eye movements during reading.

Her interest in cognitive plasticity has led her to develop a screening and educational intervention aimed at improving the learning outcomes of children with poor working memory, as well as to other methods of assessing memory and cognitive functioning. In addition to studying healthy participants, Gathercole has worked with special patient populations, for example children with Specific Learning Impairment or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, to assess how their memory and executive functions overlap with those of their peers.


Joseph, H., Liversedge, S. P., Blythe, H., White, S., Gathercole, S. E., & Rayner, K. (2008). Children’s and adults’ processing of anomaly and plausibility during reading: Evidence from eye movements. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 61, 708–723.

Archibald, L. M., & Gathercole, S. E. (2007). Nonword repetition in specific language impairment: More than a phonological short-term memory deficit. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 14,919–924.

Alloway, T. P., & Gathercole, S. E. (2006). Working memory in neurodevelopmental conditions. Hove, UK: Psychology Press.

Gathercole, S. E. (1999). Cognitive approaches to the development of short-term memory. Trends in Cognitive Science, 3, 410–418.

Nelson Cowan

Personal history

Nelson Cowan was born March 7, 1951 in Washington, DC and grew up in Wheaton, Maryland. He received a BS degree in 1973 at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, with an independent major in neurosciences and a Ph.D. in psychology in 1980 at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. After a postdoctoral fellowship at New York University funded by NIMH, his first academic position was at the University of Massachusetts. While there he was awarded an NIH New Investigator Research Award for research on the development of working memory in children, and has received NIH funding since then for similar projects through NICHD.

In 1985 he moved to the University of Missouri as an assistant professor. He is now Curators’ Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences. At the university, he has also won the Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Faculty Research and Creative Activity in the Behavioral and Social Sciences (1998) and the Golden Chalk Award for graduate teaching and education (1999). He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and the American Psychological Society, and has served as Associate Editor of three journals. In 2002 he was awarded an honorary doctorate at the University of Helsinki, Finland, and in 2007 he was elected a member of the Society of Experimental Psychologists. He is serving a term as a member of the Governing Board of the Psychonomic Society (2006–2011) and is President of the Experimental Psychology division (Division 3) of the American Psychological Association (2008–2009).


Working memory, broadly defined, is the small amount of information maintained in an especially accessible state to carry out cognitive tasks ranging widely from language comprehension to problem solving.

Early on, Nelson studied aspects of working memory in 6-week-old infants using a procedure in which they sucked on a pacifier to make a stream of vowel sounds change, which is more interesting than the stream staying the same if the changes can be perceived. The sucking rates indicated that infants can use about a half second of uninterrupted silent time to perceive each sound, whereas adult studies suggest that adults can use only about a quarter second. This suggests that a short-lived, vivid acoustic memory lingers longer in infants than in adults and may compensate for infants’ slower perceptual process. Once the sounds are perceived, a second, longer phase of acoustic memory retains some of the sound properties for a number of seconds.

Nelson and his colleagues, in later work at Missouri, showed that this second phase lasts longer in older children and adults than in first- or second-grade children. They did this by presenting unattended sounds as the children carried out a silent picture-name-rhyming game on the computer. Occasionally, the game would be interrupted by a quiz question on the identities of speech sounds that had been presented some seconds ago. Younger children lost much more of the information about the most recent sound across a period of 5 seconds.

Working memory in young children differs from that in adults in several other ways. One is the use of covert verbal rehearsal of lists to be recalled (saying words to oneself). In studies in which adults are prevented from rehearsing (by having to recite a single word, e.g., “the, the, the…”) it has been found that working memory in adults resembles the pattern ordinarily found in young children.

In several theoretical reviews, Nelson made proposals about the nature of the processing system differing from most prior proposals. The embedded process model resulted. The model provides definitions for some important processes that differ from the ones commonly used. Working memory is seen as the combination of the temporarily activated elements of long-term memory, which are not limited in capacity, and representations of just a few objects in a more integrated and analyzed form in the focus of attention, which includes new links between activated elements. Selective attention is seen as the boosting of relevant activation rather than as the exclusion of irrelevant activation, and it exerts some control of the contents of the focus of attention.

Nelson’s recent work provides an estimation of the capacity of the focus of attention or the central portion of working memory. Studies in which there is information about how items are grouped together indicate that this central working memory capacity is typically limited to three or four groups or unconnected items in ordinary young adults. The number is related to intelligence measures, and it is smaller in children or older adults. It represents items from all modalities and is supplemented by modality-specific sources of memory such as acoustic or visual memory. Individuals with good central capacity tend to be the same ones who can ignore irrelevant information and focus on relevant information.


Cowan, N. (2001). The magical number 4 in short-term memory: A reconsideration of mental storage capacity. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 24, 87–185.

Cowan, N. (2005). Working memory capacity. Hove, UK: Psychology Press.

Saults, J. S., & Cowan, N. (2007). A central capacity limit to the simultaneous storage of visual and auditory arrays in working memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 136, 663–684.

Cowan, N., & Morey, C. C. (2007). How can dual-task working memory retention limits be investigated? Psychological Science, 18, 686–688.

Chen, Z., & Cowan, N. (in press). Core verbal working memory capacity: The limit in words retained without covert articulation. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.

Randall “Randy” W. Engle

Personal history

Randy Engle remembers the first time he heard the word “psychology.” He was sitting in a freshmen orientation course and the instructor was going around the room having the students tell the group some things about themselves, including their major. A guy Engle had gone to high school with said he was majoring in something called psychology. Engle was the first one on either side of his family to go to college—the first high school graduate on one side. He had little or no idea what college was about. Just going to college was a very big deal in his family. He had great concern as to whether he even belonged there. And, here was someone majoring in something that he had never heard of. He recalled thinking that he needed to take a course in psychology as soon as he had the opportunity.

At the beginning of his sophomore year he took Leslie Fisher’s Introductory Psychology and almost immediately fell in love with every chapter of Floyd Ruch’s book. To this day, he believes it is the only textbook that he has read cover-to-cover before the course was half over.

He went to West Virginia State College because it was the only school he could afford to attend but it was one of the transforming experiences of his life. State was a public all-black college prior to 1954. As a consequence, most of his faculty were outstanding scholars who could not get jobs at top universities. One of his psychology professors was a marvelously well-read scholar named Herman G. Canady, a 1929 Ph.D. from Northwestern and one of the first black ABEPs. He worked his way through graduate school as a butler. Engle had a Harvard graduate teach his math courses, a Yale graduate as a drama teacher, and his French teacher was a black female who received her Ph.D. from the Sorbonne. These were impressive people to a self-described hillbilly kid with no idea why you would ever have two forks beside your plate.

Engle graduated with nearly as many hours in zoology and in math as he had in psychology, so it was inevitable that he gravitate to experimental psychology. He applied to only three graduate schools and was very fortunate to be admitted to Ohio State to work with D.D. Wickens (father of psychologists Tom and Chris Wickens). Wickens was a wonderful mentor and was exceedingly patient with a student that wanted to do everything but did not focus on anything long enough to do it well.

The job market was very tough in 1972 and he was lucky to land a job at King College in Tennessee. His 2 years there, with 10 classes per year, forged Engle into an outstanding teacher. Fortunately, two of his classes each year were senior research seminars and he used them to conduct experiments. His only equipment was a tape recorder and slide projector, so he started research on modality effects in short-term memory. At the end of 2 years, he had two publications, enough to land a job at the University of South Carolina, where he spent the next 21 years.

In 1995 he accepted an invitation to join the faculty at Georgia Tech where he is now Professor of Psychology.

During his career, he has won the Mortar Board Excellence in Teaching Award twice, once in 1988 and again in1994, as well as the Ace Teacher Award in 1991, the Amoco Award for University Teacher of the Year in 1993, and was a nominee for South Carolina Governor’s Professor of the Year in 1993 and 1994. Engle is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, as well as the Association for Psychological Science. In 2013 the American Psychological Association (Experimental division) presented him with the divisions first lifetime achievement award.


Engle’s Attention and Working Memory Lab focuses on the individual and developmental differences in working memory capacity and what those differences reveal about the underlying causes. Engle, Kane, and Tuholski proposed that working memory capacity reflects the ability to control attention. Thus, it reflects a part of general fluid intelligence. Engle has tied individual differences in working memory capacity to genetically-determined differences in the level of dopamine and other neurotransmitters in the frontal lobes. He also has data to suggest that individual differences in working memory capacity are partially due to differences in the ability to use retrieval cues to define the search space in memory.


Unsworth, N., & Engle, R. W. (2008). Speed and accuracy of accessing information in working memory: An individual differences investigation of focus switching. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 34, 616–630.

Heitz, R. P., & Engle, R. W. (2007). Focusing the spotlight: Individual differences in visual attention control. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 136, 217–240.

Unsworth, N., & Engle, R. W. (2007). On the division of short-term and working memory: An examination of simple and complex spans and their relations to higher-order abilities. Psychological Bulletin, 133, 1038–1066.

Engle, R. W., & Kane, M. J. (2004). Executive Attention, Working Memory Capacity, and a Two-Factor Theory of Cognitive Control. In B. Ross (Ed.), The psychology of learning and motivation (Vol. 44, pp. 145–199). New York: Academic Press.

Engle, R. W. (2002). Working memory capacity as executive attention. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 11, 19–23.

Engle, R. W., Kane, M. J., & Tuholski, S. W. (1999). Individual differences in working memory capacity and what they tell us about controlled attention, general fluid intelligence and functions of the prefrontal cortex. In A. Miyake and P. Shah (Eds.), Models of working memory: Mechanisms of active maintenance and executive control (pp.102–134). London: Cambridge Press.