Neuropsychology of the executive functions
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What is working memory?
What is working memory? Working memory, or operative memory, can be defined as the set of processes that allow us to store and manipulate temporary information and carry-out complex cognitive tasks like language comprehension, reading, learning, or reasoning. Working memory is a type of short-term memory.
Definition of working memory according to the Baddley and Hitch model
Characteristics of working memory:
- Its capacity is limited We are only able to store 5-9 elements at a time.
- It is active. It doesn't only store information, it also manipulates and transforms it.
- Its content is permanently being updated.
- It is modulated by the dorsolateral frontal cortex.
Examples of working memory
Working memory refers to the ability that allows us to retain the elements that we need in our brain while we carry-out a certain task. Thanks to working or operative memory, we are able to:
- Integrate two or more things that took place close together. For example, remembering and responding to the information that was said during a conversation.
- Associate a new concept with previous ideas. It allows us to learn
- Retain information while we pay attention to something else. For example, we are able to prepare the ingredients that we need for a recipe while we talk on the phone.
We use our working or operative memory on a daily basis for a number of tasks. When we try to remember a telephone number before writing it down or when we are immersed in conversation: we need to remember what was just said, process it, and respond to it by giving our own opinion. When we take notes at school: we need to remember what the teacher said so that we can write it down in our own words. When we do mental math in the supermarket to see if we have enough money to pay.
Disorders that are affected by working memory
Working memory is an essential part of decision making and for the proper functioning of the executive functions. This is why its alteration can be seen in dysexecutive syndromes and many learning disorders like ADHD and dyslexia. Other problems like schizophrenia and dementias tend to be associated with working memory.