Working memory influences everything you do

Working memory makes your memory work

Memory, what is it really? The human brain consists of millions and billions of brain cells, or neurons, communicating via electrochemical signals in networks with a complexity that would render a L.A. cap driver speechless. In ways that are not fully understood yet, some of these neuronal networks facilitate the remarkable abilities of memory, such as recalling past experiences and use this information to evaluate and act on the present moment. If you ask the experts, “what is memory really?” – They will tell you that the human memory is in fact many systems in the brain with different functions working together to form what us ordinary people refer to as memory.  

There are many different forms of memory

In this post we will focus on one of the most prominent and fundamental parts of your memory, more specifically ”Working memory”, and explore why this memory function is so important for you. Some people are familiar with the terms short term and long term memory, and know that short term memory deals with remembering information for a short period of time and that long term memory deals with storing information for a longer period of time. Where short term memory ideally reflects our immediate surroundings as perceived via our senses, long term memory is “pickier” or more selective in what information it picks up – or so it may feel. For instance, you might remember what you read in the newspaper right after reading it, but you might not be able to remember it the day after. Professionals dealing with the brain, like neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists do, find it useful to refer to specific parts of memory systems in a more detailed fashion. We will explore one of those very critical systems called working memory, which is a short term memory system that plays a crucial role in our ability to function and perform almost any task.  

Working memory allows you to manage information in your brain

Working memory allows us to have multiple pieces of information available at once in our mind, to process and manipulate. Have you ever tried to calculate something in your head and during the process forgotten numbers or simply not been able to add them together? That feeling of being overwhelmed by the numbers is actually your working memory straining under the lack of capacity. Working memory is very quick to process information and can process a huge amount of information in a short time span, but the more information you are forced to process at once, the more likely it is that you will get the feeling of being overwhelmed and you’ll be unable to retain all the necessary information in your memory.  

Improve the efficiency of your working memory

The nature of working memory capacity and to which extend it can be trained using techniques such as brain training is something that is discussed in the scientific community these days. While it is less certain whether you can actually increase the physical capacity of working memory, there is ample evidence that you can improve the efficiency of working memory, for instance by improving the time it takes to process objects in your environment. Similarly, in our last blog post, we mentioned a study on attention, which showed that mastering the ability to focus attention produce less distractions, and thus less irrelevant information for your working memory to deal with, which is another way you can improve the efficiency of working memory.  

Science explores new aspects of working memory

Working memory is influencing your talent Published by: Michigan State University, October, 2011 A controversial research study claims that practice and intellect is not enough to explain why some people are better at certain tasks than others. They studied several experts with very high skills in specific fields (like music) and found that the critical difference between them was their working memory capacity.   Low working memory capacity causes learning problems Published in: PubMed, March, 2009 This study indicated that it might be more relevant to measure children based on their working memory capacity, rather than IQ tests. Children with low working memory capacity had problems with learning and were usually behind the estimated age-level. It took them much longer to process information, had trouble solving problems, made careless mistakes and their teachers usually described them as having attention problems. Moreover, the students with low memory capacity accounted for approximately 10% of their age group in mainstream schools.   Working memory training may boost intelligence Published by: Nature Precedings, August, 2009 In this study, the researchers found that working memory training increased performance in a specific IQ test. Moreover, the effect was dependent on the number of training sessions the individual had been a part of.  

The key insight… You should prioritize your working memory!

We know that working memory is important when it comes to decision making, and could have great impact on your abilities, both the practical and the academic. Your ability to learn is highly affected by working memory and no matter what we do as humans; we are required to learn our entire lives. Prioritize your memory, challenge yourself and seek and dive into new knowledge. The more you practice – the faster you will learn – the more you will learn – the better you will be.