[ALC] Memory- Part 3 Working Memory

Though yet fully understood, what has been clarified is that our brain not only stores information simply in short and long term, but in the form of a working memory, where it could later be utilized for further processing. 

By 전승혜 Seonghae Jeon, M.P.A.

Do “87 x 6” in your head. Most people would probably get the multiplication of 7 and 6 and at the same time store the number “4” on one side to later add it with the multiplication of 8 and 6. Just like this, our brain temporarily stores new information for further processing. This process requires approximately 3 subparts, phonological loops, visuo-spatial sketchpad, and central executive. 

The phonological loop stores 2 seconds worth of heard information. If we repeat and reinforce the heard information, it could be stored for longer than 2 seconds, but if not, its storage span is limited to approximately 2 seconds. What’s interesting is that the memory span is highly dependent on the vowel length and the speed of speech. English-speakers can recall 6.6 words in average within a given time. Welsh-speakers, who has comparatively longer vowels than English-speakers, are shown to recall less words, while Chinese-speakers were able to recall 9.9 words, given their shorter vowel lengths.

“If we repeat and reinforce the heard information, it could be stored for longer than 2 seconds, but if not, its storage span is limited to approximately 2 seconds.”

In a research on phonological loops, researchers concluded that children with larger phonological loops can recall more words than those with smaller ones, thus can learn reading and speaking at a faster rate. This also suggests that children with smaller phonological loops find reading and speaking difficult, so they are more likely to experience learning difficulties such as dyslexia.  

Visuo-spatial sketchpad stores visual inputs. Our brain is known to better process visual stimulation than verbal stimulation. The sketchpad is an individual system to the phonological loop, which is why we can look at details of an art piece and have a conversation at the same time in an exhibition.  

Last but not least, the central executive analyzes and associates information taken in by the phonological loop and the visuo-spatial sketchpad. The role of the central executive is still under research. Though yet fully understood, what has been clarified is that our brain not only stores information simply in short and long term, but in the form of a working memory, where it could later be utilized for further processing.