Memory, Aging and the Brain: A Festschrift in Honour of Lars-Göran Nilsson

By Lars Bäckman; Lars Nyberg | Go to book overview

2
Long-term and working
memory:
How do they interact?

Alan Baddeley

I have known Lars-Göran Nilsson since we met at an Attention and Performance meeting in Stockholm many years ago. As a local, he proved a knowledgeable guide to the colourful nightlife that characterized Stockholm at the time. We have been friends ever since, and I was delighted to be invited to participate in his Festschrift. Despite being friends, we have never collaborated, my own principal interest being in working memory and Lars-Göran’s in long-term memory. It seemed appropriate, therefore, that my contribution to this tribute should concern the interaction between long-term and working memory.

Working memory is assumed to be a system for the temporary storage and manipulation of the information involved in complex cognition; as such it could be regarded as a system that underpins our capacity for coherent sustained thought. As a growing area of study, it receives, from time to time, proposals that working memory should be incorporated within the more established areas of perception and/or long-term memory. Of these takeover bids, the least worrying is that from perception (e.g., Allport, 1984; Jones, Macken, & Nichols, 2004), which tends to be focused on a single component of working memory – namely, the phonological loop – and appears to have little to say about the crucial executive function of working memory (for a response to two of these proposals, see Baddeley & Larsen, 2007; Baddeley & Wilson, 1993).

A more serious alternative to the multicomponent model is presented by the proposal that working memory simply comprises the currently activated portion of long-term memory (LTM), the implication being that if we study LTM, then an understanding of working memory will be provided as a bonus. One version of this was spelled out in an influential article by Melton (1963), which observed that a range of experimental paradigms used to study short-term memory (STM) showed clear evidence of long-term influences, thereby obviating the need for a separate short-term system. In responding to this, Waugh and Norman (1965) pointed out the need to distinguish between experimental paradigms and the concepts that they were intended to investigate. A standard STM paradigm such as digit span does not provide a pure measure of the hypothetical system assumed to underpin performance, hence

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