Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Working Memory Capacity and Retrieval from Long-Term Memory: The Role of Controlled Search

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Working Memory Capacity and Retrieval from Long-Term Memory: The Role of Controlled Search

Article excerpt

Abstract In two experiments, the role of working memory capacity (WMC) in the controlled search of long-term memory was examined. Participants performed a prolonged category fluency task that required them to retrieve as many animals as possible in 5 min. The results suggested that WMC differences arose in the numbers of animals retrieved, the numbers of clusters retrieved, and the rates of the retrieval (Exp. 1). However, no differences were found in terms of how participants initiated retrieval or in the nature of the clusters generated. Furthermore, an examination of differences in retrieval strategies suggested that high-WMC individuals were more strategic than low-WMC individuals and that these differences in retrieval strategies accounted for the overall differences in the numbers of animals retrieved. Additionally, presenting participants with retrieval cues eliminated WMC differences in the numbers of animals retrieved (Exp. 2). These results suggest that low-WMC individuals are less able than high-WMC individuals to select and utilize appropriate retrieval strategies to self-generate cues to access information in long-term memory. Collectively, the results are consistent with research suggesting that WMC is important for controlled search from long-term memory.

Keywords Working memory . Individual differences

Working memory, and individual differences in working memory capacity (WMC), has long been shown to be an important predictor of higher-order cognitive abilities such as intelligence (see Engle & Kane, 2004). Previous work has suggested that retrieval of information from long-term memory is also an important process to working memory and is part of the reason for individual differences in WMC (Cowan et al., 2003; Healey & Miyake, 2009; Kane & Engle, 2000; D. L. Nelson & Goodmon, 2003; Radvanksy & Copeland, 2006; Rosen & Engle, 1997; Unsworth & Engle, 2007). In particular, recent correlational work has suggested that measures of working memory are moderately to strongly related to measures of long-term memory (Mogle, Lovett, Stawski, & Sliwinski, 2008; Unsworth, 2010; Unsworth, Brewer, & Spillers, 2009).

Despite initial evidence for a relation between WMC and long-term memory abilities, the reason for the relation is still not fully understood. Although it is likely that strategic encoding processes are important, we have previously suggested that controlled search is also an important reason for the relation between WMC and long-term memory (Spillers & Unsworth, 2011; Unsworth, 2007). Our goal in the present study was to examine the relation between WMC and long-term memory by examining controlled search processes in a difficult and prolonged long-term memory task.

Controlled search processes

Voluntary recall from long-term memory (LTM) typically requires an active search of memory in which LTM is probed with various cues to attempt to access the desired information. This search process is thought to be dictated by both directed and random components (Shiffrin, 1970; Shiffrin & Atkinson, 1969). The directed component refers to those strategic processes that are under direct control of the individual. These strategic control processes include setting up an overall retrieval plan, selecting various retrieval strategies, and selecting and generating appropriate cues to search memory with, as well as various monitoring strategies and decisions as to whether or not to continue searching (T. O. Nelson & Narens, 1990). The random component refers to the probabilistic nature of the search process, in which a subset of information is activated by the cues (i.e., the search set), and representations are subsequently sampled (probabilistically with replacement) and recovered from this subset (Raaijmakers & Shiffrin, 1980; Shiffrin, 1970). Thus, recall from LTM is dictated not only by various strategies that individuals bring to bear on the task, but also by the probabilistic nature of recall from LTM. …

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