Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

How Does Enactment Affect the Ability to Follow Instructions in Working Memory?

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

How Does Enactment Affect the Ability to Follow Instructions in Working Memory?

Article excerpt

Published online: 7 November 2014

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract Recent studies examining working memory for sequences of instructions have demonstrated a performance advantage when the instructions are physically enacted rather than verbally recalled. However, little is known about the source of this effect, or how instructions are stored in working memory more generally. In particular, no previous studies have compared the impacts of enactment on encoding versus recall in working memory. We conducted an experiment to examine the impacts of enactment on both the encoding and recall phases of a task measuring memory for sequences of simple action-object pairs (e.g., touch the circle, spin the cross, flip the square, . . .) in young adult participants. An advantage for enacted over verbal recall was observed, in line with recent evidence. In addition, the enactment of actions during the encoding phase on each trial significantly facilitated subsequent performance; this effect was particularly apparent for verbal repetition rather than enacted recall. These findings are interpreted as reflecting a beneficial role for spatial-motoric coding in working memory that can be engaged through either action planning or physical performance.

Keywords Working memory . Enactment . Following instructions . SPT

From the classroom to the vocational training course, the ability to retain and subsequently implement sequences of instructions is critical for their successful performance. Although considerable research has examined this ability in long-term memory tasks, very few studies have explored how this might operate over shorter time periods. This is surprising, given that instructions can often require temporary storage and immediate implementation, and given the close links that have been emphasized between working memory and action (e.g., Baddeley, 2012). Indeed, working memory itself can be defined as a limited-capacity system that "supports human thought processes by providing an interface between perception, long-term memory and action" (Baddeley, 2003, pp. 829). In the present study, we therefore aimed to explore the cognitive underpinnings involved in retaining and implementing instructional sequences, with a particular focus on how enactment and action planning relate to working memory.

The vast majority of research on working memory has examined simple verbal recall or recognition tests for verbal and visuospatial information. However, the few studies that have been carried out on enactment and working memory suggest that storing instructions for subsequent physical implementation involves factors additional to those involved in verbal repetition. Koriat, Ben-Zurr, and Nussbaum (1990) presented short sequences of action-object pairs involving real objects (e.g., "touch the stone, lift the ashtray, move the pencil") and manipulated whether participants recalled via physical enactment or verbal repetition. They found that enacted recall was more accurate than verbal recall. In addition, when participants encoded the sequence in anticipation of enacted recall, performance on a surprise verbal test was improved, indicating that the enacted recall advantage at least partly reflects beneficial impacts of action planning during encoding. More recently, Gathercole, Durling, Evans, Jeffcock, and Stone (2008) examined the ability of 5- to 6year-old children to either perform or verbally repeat sequences such as "Pick up the blue ruler and put it in the red folder then touch the green box," and they observed a substantial advantage for enacted over verbal recall. These findings suggest that an imaginal-enactive action plan is constructed when instructional sequences are encountered for later implementation, which can be used to underpin actual performance of the instructions but may also benefit verbal recall (Koriat et al., 1990).

Working memory resources are likely have an important role in instruction storage and action planning (Logie, Engelkamp, Dehn, & Rudkin, 2001;Smyth,Pearson,& Pendleton, 1988). …

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