Being Unlucky When You Think
The Importance of Working Memory
Organizing the morning’s activities and dropping the kids of at nursery in time is hardly rocket science, but that doesn’t mean it’s not complicated. One September morning when it’s time for me to take my youngest daughter to preschool, and when I think that we’re finally ready to cycle off, she descends into the hall fully dressed but without shoes or bag. I ask her to go up to her room to put her socks on and get her backpack. A minute later she comes down with her bag and a scrunchy in her hair—but still barefoot. Another patient instruction from me, and when she returns from her room this time she’s actually wearing her socks. We’re at last ready to leave—if, that is, we can find her backpack.
Remembering instructions is a skill that employs working memory. But working memory has limited capacity and children have even smaller capacities than adults, which we see in the way they find it harder to remember instructions. The longer the instruction, the more likely it is to be forgotten.
Now I’m not claiming that my children have particularly poor working memories. They don’t. Similar episodes can plague me, too—even if I do usually remember to put my socks on in the morning. Take the following incident: I’m just about to round off the day’s work when I remember my promise to mail an article to a colleague. All I have to do is open my mail server again. As my