Studies on Working Memory

by Ellen R. Doman M.A.

Baddeley’s model of working memory was published in 1974 (Baddeley, Hitch 1974) and continues to be used by professionals today. Prior to their work, the only part of thinking that had been clearly defined was the short term memory (Atkininson, Shiffrin 1971). According to Baddeley and Hitch (1974), the working memory was responsible for processing information and it had various components that were used to handle information. The working memory was also describe as having a capacity regarding the amount of information that it could handle.

In a study completed Graesser, Singer and Trabasso (1994) their constructionist theory discussed how an individual’s working memory related information that he or she was reading to information that was already known and stored. This had also been discussed in a study done by Daneman and Carpenter ( Daneman, Carpenter,1979), who established that the working memory determined how much information could be stored related to reading comprehension work.

Studies done more recently support the role of the working memory in attention and processing verbal information which are key to reading comprehension (Carretti, Borella, Cornoldi, DeBeni2009). Further studies showed that the performance of the working memory was a good predictor of how well individuals could answer inferential questions in long reading passages if they were not permitted to go back and reread the material (Andreassen, Braten 2010). Working memory was also found to be the key factor in understanding sentences being read in a second language (Kashiwagi 2011). In students demonstrating learning difficulties or deficits in reading comprehension, Pimperton’s study showed that these issues were tied to the working memory function (Pimperton, Nation 2010). In fact, the verbal working memory was found to be the best indicator of reading comprehension difficulties (Macaruso, Shankweiler 2010).

All parts of the working memory were found to be related to and able to predict success in not only reading comprehension but also problem-solving abilities and math (Zheng, Swansen, Marcoulides 2011). This study was the followed by a study published in 2012 supporting that several areas of the working memory were involved in mathematics as well (Nyroos, Wikland-Hornquist 2012). Alloway (Alloway, Passolunghi 2011) had also completed a study finding that several areas of working memory impacted on achievement in mathematics.

Working memory was found to be able to predict which students would have difficulty learning how to do math operations (Toll, Van de Ven, Krostberger, Van Luit 2011). These findings were then supported by Proctor who found that there was a positive correlation between working memory and mathematical reasoning in students with learning disabilities (Proctor 2012).

We see that the working memory has been related to problem-solving, reading comprehension in native languages and in second languages as well as in the comprehension of mathematics. Problems in working memory have also been cited in many of these studies as an accurate predictor of learning problems in these areas. The importance of working memory not just in academics but also in daily problem-solving are clear. Recently a study done by Dahlen supported that working memory training had a positive effect on reading comprehension and literacy (Dahlen 2011). During the school year 2007-2008, NACD worked with the Wasatch Peak Academy using digit spans and reverse digit spans activities with students. Pre and post testing completed independently by the school as well as testing completed by NACD showed a positive correlation between improvement in working memory as produced by improved scores on reverse digit span activities and standardized test scores (NACDFoundation 2009). A study completed in 2012 which is being published by NACD also found a positive correlation between reverse digit spans and the Simply Smarter Kids App which are both working memory activities.

Works Cited

Baddeley, A.D., Hitch, G. (1974)
“Working Memory.” In G.H. Bower (Ed.) The Psychology of Learning and Motivation: Advances In Research and Theory. 1975: vol.8 47-89.

Atkinson, R.C., Shiffrin, R.N. “The Control Processes of Short Term Memory.” Technical Report 173 Psychology Series. 1971: Institute for Mathematical Studies in the Social Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, CA.

Graesser, A.C., Singer,M., Trabasso, T. “Constructing Inferences During Narrative Text Comprehension.” Psychological Review 1974: Vol.101, Number 3, 391.

Daneman, M., Carpenter, P.” Individual Differences in Working Memory and Reading.”
Carnegie-Mellon Universtiy, USA

Carretti, B., Borella, E., Cornoldi, C., DeBeni, R. “The Role of Working Memory in Explaining the Performance of Individuals with Specific Reading Comprehension Difficulites: A Meta-Analysis.” Learning and Individual Differences 2009: Vol.19,number 2, 246-251.

Andreassen, R., Braten, I. “Examining the Prediction of Reading Comprehension on Different Multiple Choice Tests.” Journal of Research in Reading 2010: Vol.33, Issue 3, 263-283

Kashiwagi, A. “Relative Clauses in First and Second Language: A Case Study.” ProQuestLLC., Ph.D. Dissertation 2011: The Ohio State University.

Pimperton, H. Nation, K. “Suppressing Irrelevant Information from Working Memory: Evidence For Domain Specific Deficits in Poor Comprehenders.” Journal of Memory and Language 2010: vol 62, n4, 380-391.

Macaruso, P., Shankweiler, D. “Expanding the Simpler View of Reading in Accounting for Reading Skills in Commuity College Students.” Reading Psychology 2010: vol.33, n5, 454-471.

Zheng X, Swanson, H.L., Marculides, G. “Working Memory Components as Predictors of Children’s Mathematical Word Processing Abilities.” Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. Dec 2011: 110 n4, 481-98.

Nyroos,M., Wiklund-Hornquist,C. “The Association between Working Memory and Educational Attainment as Measuared in Different Mathematical Subtopics in the Swedish National Assessment Primary Education.” Educational Psychology 2012: vol.32, n2, 239-256.

Alloway, T. P., Passolunghi, M. “The relations between working memory and arithmetical abilities: A comparison between Italian and British children.” Learning and Individual Differences 2011: vol 21, 133-137.

Toll, S.W.M., Van der Ven, S.H.G.,Kroesbergen, E.H., Van Luit, J.E.H. Executive Functions as Predictors of Math Learning Disabilities .Journal of Learning Disabilities 2011: vol.44, n6, 521-532.

Proctor, B. “Relationships between Cattell-Horn-Carroll (CHC) Cognitive Abilities and Math Achievement within a Sample of College Students with Learning Disabilities.” Journal of Learning Disabilities 2012: vol.45, n3, 278-287.

Dahlen, K.I.E. “Effects of Working Memory Training on Reading in Children with Special Needs.” Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 2011: vol 24, n 4, 479-491.

NACD/Wasatch Peak Academy School Model Program(The NACD Foundation 2009: vol.22 n9.

Reprinted by permission of The NACD Foundation, Volume 25 No. 9, 2012 ©NACD


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