The Components of Working Memory Updating: An Experimental Decomposition and Individual Differences

Ullrich K. H. Ecker*, Stephan Lewandowsky, Klaus Oberauer, Abby E. H. Chee

*Corresponding author for this work

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

158 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Working memory updating (WMU) has been identified as a cognitive function of prime importance for everyday tasks and has also been found to be a significant predictor of higher mental abilities. Yet, little is known about the constituent processes of WMU. We suggest that operations required in a typical WMU task can be decomposed into 3 major component processes: retrieval, transformation, and substitution. We report a large-scale experiment that instantiated all possible combinations of those 3 component processes. Results show that the 3 components make independent contributions to updating performance. We additionally present structural equation models that link WMU task performance and working memory capacity (WMC) measures. These feature the methodological advancement of estimating interindividual covariation and experimental effects on mean updating measures simultaneously. The modeling results imply that WMC is a strong predictor of WMU skills in general, although some component processes-in particular, substitution skills-were independent of WMC. Hence, the reported predictive power of WMU measures may rely largely on common WM functions also measured in typical WMC tasks, although substitution skills may make an independent contribution to predicting higher mental abilities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)170-189
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition
Volume36
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2010

Structured keywords

  • Cognitive Science

Keywords

  • working memory
  • memory updating
  • structural equation modeling
  • individual differences
  • SHORT-TERM-MEMORY
  • EXECUTIVE FUNCTIONS
  • RECOGNITION MEMORY
  • FLUID INTELLIGENCE
  • PROCESSING SPEED
  • MENTAL PROCESSES
  • EPISODIC MEMORY
  • AGE-DIFFERENCES
  • INSTANCE THEORY
  • SPATIAL MEMORY

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