Is working memory closely related to attention?

This week at my research group seminar we’ve discussed the following paper about how attention is closely linked to working memory, which is related to another post about a Taxonomy of Attention that I wrote a year ago based on the paper by Chen et al. (2011):

. 2019; 2(1): 36. Published online 2019 Aug 8. DOI: 10.5334/joc.58

Working Memory and Attention – A Conceptual Analysis and Review

Klaus Oberauer

In this review, Oberauner unpacks the relationship between attention and working memory in many different ways depending on the role of attention (as a resource or as a selective/prioritizing mechanism) and tries to make a map on how attention and working memory are link using the literature that is out there.

One of the ideas that I kept from the review paper is that attention and working memory are not limited per se, but a higher-level capacity of cognition it is. For example, it is known that we cannot hold more than 4 items in our working memory capacity, and our performance increases with the fewer items we need to attend and memorize. When you are asked to remember the position of two items your performance accuracy will be better compared to if you have to remember four items. However, what’s interesting and in line with what I was explaining at the beginning, is that when you have four items in front of you (equally divided into two different colours) and you are asked to focus in only one of the colours (e.g., red) then it seems that this high-level capacity takes place. If you look at Figure (b) below you’ll see how the ERP of high and low-capacity participants changes. The high-capacity participants were able to suppress the two other items that were not relevant for the task (e.g., blue) and remembered just the two of interest (e.g., red) leading to the same performance level as if they had only two items in front of them. However, the low-capacity participants were not able to suppress the other two non-related items for the task and remember the four items instead, leading to lower performance. So, it seems that has more influence the capacity level rather than the memory items that one can hold for a good performance in memory.

memory_vogel2005
From Vogel et al. (2005).

If you want to know more about it, I’ll invite you to read the review and explore the list of references that he provides to find things like the one above.

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