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How does chunking help working memory?


Thalmann, Mirko; Souza, Alessandra S; Oberauer, Klaus (2019). How does chunking help working memory? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 45(1):37-55.

Abstract

Chunking is the recoding of smaller units of information into larger, familiar units. Chunking is often assumed to help bypassing the limited capacity of working memory (WM). We investigate how chunks are used in WM tasks, addressing three questions: (a) Does chunking reduce the load on WM? Across four experiments chunking benefits were found not only for recall of the chunked but also of other not-chunked information concurrently held in WM, supporting the assumption that chunking reduces load. (b) Is the chunking benefit independent of chunk size? The chunking benefit was independent of chunk size only if the chunks were composed of unique elements, so that each chunk could be replaced by its first element (Experiment 1), but not when several chunks consisted of overlapping sets of elements, disabling this replacement strategy (Experiments 2 and 3). The chunk-size effect is not due to differences in rehearsal duration as it persisted when participants were required to perform articulatory suppression (Experiment 3). Hence, WM capacity is not limited to a fixed number of chunks regardless of their size. (c) Does the chunking benefit depend on the serial position of the chunk? Chunks in early list positions improved recall of other, not-chunked material, but chunks at the end of the list did not. We conclude that a chunk reduces the load on WM via retrieval of a compact chunk representation from long-term memory that replaces the representations of individual elements of the chunk. This frees up capacity for subsequently encoded material.

Abstract

Chunking is the recoding of smaller units of information into larger, familiar units. Chunking is often assumed to help bypassing the limited capacity of working memory (WM). We investigate how chunks are used in WM tasks, addressing three questions: (a) Does chunking reduce the load on WM? Across four experiments chunking benefits were found not only for recall of the chunked but also of other not-chunked information concurrently held in WM, supporting the assumption that chunking reduces load. (b) Is the chunking benefit independent of chunk size? The chunking benefit was independent of chunk size only if the chunks were composed of unique elements, so that each chunk could be replaced by its first element (Experiment 1), but not when several chunks consisted of overlapping sets of elements, disabling this replacement strategy (Experiments 2 and 3). The chunk-size effect is not due to differences in rehearsal duration as it persisted when participants were required to perform articulatory suppression (Experiment 3). Hence, WM capacity is not limited to a fixed number of chunks regardless of their size. (c) Does the chunking benefit depend on the serial position of the chunk? Chunks in early list positions improved recall of other, not-chunked material, but chunks at the end of the list did not. We conclude that a chunk reduces the load on WM via retrieval of a compact chunk representation from long-term memory that replaces the representations of individual elements of the chunk. This frees up capacity for subsequently encoded material.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Psychology
Dewey Decimal Classification:150 Psychology
Scopus Subject Areas:Social Sciences & Humanities > Language and Linguistics
Social Sciences & Humanities > Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
Social Sciences & Humanities > Linguistics and Language
Uncontrolled Keywords:DoktoratPsych Erstautor
Language:English
Date:1 January 2019
Deposited On:02 May 2018 09:00
Last Modified:29 Jul 2020 07:13
Publisher:American Psychological Association
ISSN:0278-7393
Additional Information:The scripts for all the experimental procedures and the raw data of the present article are available on the following Open-Science Framework web page: https://osf.io/jjfbh/?view_only3ebcbef89c3545019f6fde0fe28729f3 This article may not exactly replicate the final version published in the APA journal. It is not the copy of record.
OA Status:Green
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1037/xlm0000578
PubMed ID:29698045
Project Information:
  • : FunderSNSF
  • : Grant ID100014_149193
  • : Project TitleThe Role of Rehearsal in Working Memory

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