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Exploring the forgetting mechanisms in working memory: Evidence from a reasoning span test

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Debbie Riby


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In working memory (WM) span tests participants have to maintain to-be-remembered information while processing other, potentially distracting, information. Previous studies have shown that WM span scores are greater when span lists start with a long processing task and end with a short processing task than when these processing tasks are presented in the reverse order (e.g., Towse, Hitch, Hutton, 2000). In Experiment 1, we obtained a similar stimulus order effect in a reasoning span test, using reasoning sentences that were equated for length in terms of the number of constituent words, but which differed in processing complexity; span scores were greater when lists began with a complex sentence and ended with a simple sentence than when this stimulus order was reversed. In Experiment 2, the stimulus order effect was not found when processing duration was held constant while sentence complexity was varied using a computer-paced moving window presentation paradigm. These results suggest that duration-based constraints can affect degree of forgetting independently of the load generated during processing phases in WM span performance and therefore imply that time-related forgetting can occur in WM span tests, particularly when the difficulty of the processing component blocks active maintenance of to-be-remembered material.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Saito S, Jarrold C, Riby DM

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology

Year: 2009

Volume: 62

Issue: 7

Pages: 1401-1419

Print publication date: 01/01/2009

ISSN (print): 1747-0218

ISSN (electronic): 1747-0226

Publisher: Psychology Press


DOI: 10.1080/17470210802426924


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Funder referenceFunder name
G0000258Medical Research Council
G9901359Medical Research Council