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Working Memory and Attention - A Conceptual Analysis and Review


Oberauer, Klaus (2019). Working Memory and Attention - A Conceptual Analysis and Review. Journal of Cognition, 2(1):36.

Abstract

There is broad agreement that working memory is closely related to attention. This article delineates several theoretical options for conceptualizing this link, and evaluates their viability in light of their theoretical implications and the empirical support they received. A first divide exists between the concept of attention as a limited resource, and the concept of attention as selective information processing. Theories conceptualizing attention as a resource assume that this resource is responsible for the limited capacity of working memory. Three versions of this idea have been proposed: Attention as a resource for storage and processing, a shared resource for perceptual attention and memory maintenance, and a resource for the control of attention. The first of these three is empirically well supported, but the other two are not. By contrast, when attention is understood as a selection mechanism, it is usually not invoked to explain the capacity limit of working memory - rather, researchers ask how different forms of attention interact with working memory, in two areas. The first pertains to attentional selection of the contents of working memory, controlled by mechanisms of filtering out irrelevant stimuli, and removing no-longer relevant representations from working memory. Within working memory contents, a single item is often selected into the focus of attention for processing. The second area pertains to the role of working memory in cognitive control. Working memory contributes to controlling perceptual attention - by holding templates for targets of perceptual selection - and controlling action - by holding task sets to implement our current goals.

Abstract

There is broad agreement that working memory is closely related to attention. This article delineates several theoretical options for conceptualizing this link, and evaluates their viability in light of their theoretical implications and the empirical support they received. A first divide exists between the concept of attention as a limited resource, and the concept of attention as selective information processing. Theories conceptualizing attention as a resource assume that this resource is responsible for the limited capacity of working memory. Three versions of this idea have been proposed: Attention as a resource for storage and processing, a shared resource for perceptual attention and memory maintenance, and a resource for the control of attention. The first of these three is empirically well supported, but the other two are not. By contrast, when attention is understood as a selection mechanism, it is usually not invoked to explain the capacity limit of working memory - rather, researchers ask how different forms of attention interact with working memory, in two areas. The first pertains to attentional selection of the contents of working memory, controlled by mechanisms of filtering out irrelevant stimuli, and removing no-longer relevant representations from working memory. Within working memory contents, a single item is often selected into the focus of attention for processing. The second area pertains to the role of working memory in cognitive control. Working memory contributes to controlling perceptual attention - by holding templates for targets of perceptual selection - and controlling action - by holding task sets to implement our current goals.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, further contribution
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Psychology
Dewey Decimal Classification:150 Psychology
Language:English
Date:8 August 2019
Deposited On:30 Sep 2019 13:16
Last Modified:07 Apr 2020 07:22
Publisher:European Society for Cognitive Psychology
ISSN:2514-4820
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:PubMed ID. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.5334/joc.58
PubMed ID:31517246
Project Information:
  • : FunderSNSF
  • : Grant ID100014_135002
  • : Project TitleThe Capacity Limit of Working Memory: Continuous or Discrete?

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