Working Memory Span Tasks: A Methodological Review and User's Guide

By Conway, Andrew R. A.; Kane, Michael J. et al. | Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, October 2005 | Go to article overview

Working Memory Span Tasks: A Methodological Review and User's Guide


Conway, Andrew R. A., Kane, Michael J., Bunting, Michael F., Hambrick, D. Zach, et al., Psychonomic Bulletin & Review


Working memory (WM) span tasks-and in particular, counting span, operation span, and reading span tasks-are widely used measures of WM capacity. Despite their popularity, however, there has never been a comprehensive analysis of the merits of WM span tasks as measurement tools. Here, we review the genesis of these tasks and discuss how and why they came to be so influential. In so doing, we address the reliability and validity of the tasks, and we consider more technical aspects of the tasks, such as optimal administration and scoring procedures. Finally, we discuss statistical and methodological techniques that have commonly been used in conjunction with WM span tasks, such as latent variable analysis and extreme-groups designs.

Other than standardized instruments, such as intelligence test batteries, working memory (WM) span tasks, such as the counting span, operation span, and reading span tasks, are among the most widely used measurement tools in cognitive psychology. These tasks have come to prominence not only for their methodological merit, but also because theoretical advances in the study of human behavior since the cognitive revolution have placed WM as a central construct in psychology. Methodologically, WM span tasks have proven to be both reliable and valid measures of WM capacity (WMC), which we will document below. However, the larger factor in accounting for their increased use is simply that WM has become a widely useful, scientifically fruitful construct. It plays an important role in contemporary global models of cognition (e.g., J. R. Anderson & Lebiere, 1998; Cowan, 1995), and it is purportedly involved in a wide range of complex cognitive behaviors, such as comprehension, reasoning, and problem solving (Engle, 2002). Also, WMC is an important individual-differences variable and accounts for a significant portion of variance in general intellectual ability (Conway, Cowan, Bunting, Therriault, & Minkoff, 2002; Conway, Kane, & Engle, 2003; Engle, Tuholski, Laughlin, & Conway, 1999; Kane et al., 2004; Kyllonen, 1996; Kyllonen & Christal, 1990; SuB, Oberauer, Wittmann, WilhElm, & Schulze, 2002). Furthermore, neuroimaging and neuropsychological studies have revealed that WM function is particularly dependent on cells in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which has traditionally held a prominent status in the biological approach to studying complex goal-directed human behavior (Kane & Engle, 2002).

A diverse set of researchers is now using WM as a construct in research programs, as well as measures of WMC in the arsenal of research tools. Within psychology, discussions of WM are now common in almost all branches of the discipline, including cognitive, clinical, social, developmental, and educational psychology. For example, clinical research has demonstrated that WM is related to depression (Arnett et al., 1999) and to the ability to deal with life event stress (Klein & Boals, 2001 ) and is affected by alcohol consumption (Finn, 2002). Social psychologists have revealed that students under stereotype threat suffer reduced WMC and that WMC mediates the effect of stereotype threat on standardized tests (Schmader & Johns, 2003). Also, WMC is taxed and, subsequently, depleted as a result of interracial interaction for highly prejudiced individuals (Richeson et al., 2003; Richeson & Shelton, 2003). In neuropsychology, deficits in WMC may be a marker of early onset of Alzheimer's disease (Rosen, Bergeson, Putnam, Harwell, & Sunderland, 2002). Developmental research suggests that the development of WMC in children is central to the development of cognitive abilities in general (Munakata, Morton, & O'Reilly, in press) and that declines in WMC as a result of aging are central to general cognitive-aging effects (Hasher & Zacks, 1988). In short, recent research across the discipline implicates WM as a central psychological construct (for reviews, see Feldman-Barrett, Tugade, & Engle, 2004; Unsworth, Heitz, & Engle, 2005). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Working Memory Span Tasks: A Methodological Review and User's Guide
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.