Evidence Against Decay in Verbal Working Memory

Klaus Oberauer*, Stephan Lewandowsky

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The article tests the assumption that forgetting in working memory for verbal materials is caused by time-based decay, using the complex-span paradigm. Participants encoded 6 letters for serial recall; each letter was preceded and followed by a processing period comprising 4 trials of difficult visual search. Processing duration, during which memory could decay, was manipulated via search set size. This manipulation increased retention interval by up to 100% without having any effect on recall accuracy. This result held with and without articulatory suppression. Two experiments using a dual-task paradigm showed that the visual search process required central attention. Thus, even when memory maintenance by central attention and by articulatory rehearsal was prevented, a large delay had no effect on memory performance, contrary to the decay notion. Most previous experiments that manipulated the retention interval and the opportunity for maintenance processes in complex span have confounded these variables with time pressure during processing periods. Three further experiments identified time pressure as the variable that affected recall. We conclude that time-based decay does not contribute to the capacity limit of verbal working memory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)380-411
Number of pages32
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Volume142
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2013

Structured keywords

  • Memory

Keywords

  • working memory
  • decay
  • visual search
  • bottleneck
  • SHORT-TERM-MEMORY
  • IMMEDIATE SERIAL-RECALL
  • TEMPORAL DECAY
  • VISUAL-SEARCH
  • MAINTENANCE REHEARSAL
  • TIME PRESSURE
  • WORD-LENGTH
  • NO EVIDENCE
  • INTERFERENCE
  • MODEL

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