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How fast can people refresh and rehearse information in working memory?


Oberauer, Klaus; Souza, Alessandra S (2020). How fast can people refresh and rehearse information in working memory? Memory & Cognition, 48(8):1442-1459.

Abstract

Refreshing – briefly attending to an item in working memory – has been proposed as a domain-general maintenance process. According the time-based resource-sharing (TBRS) theory, people refresh the contents of working memory sequentially at high speed. We measured the speed of refreshing by asking participants to sequentially refresh a small set of items in sync with a metronome, and to adjust the metronome to the fastest speed at which they could refresh. Refreshing speeds converged on about 0.2 s per item for several verbal and visual materials. This time was shorter than the speed of articulatory rehearsal measured with the same method, and – in contrast to rehearsal – did not depend on word length. We sought evidence for people refreshing in sync with the metronome by presenting recognition probes at unpredictable times. We expected that probes matching the just-refreshed item should be recognized faster and more accurately than probes matching other items. This was not the case. A parallel experiment with overt articulatory rehearsal showed poor synchronization of rehearsal with the metronome, suggesting by analogy that refreshing was equally out of sync. The results support the assumption that people can attend sequential to items in working memory, and monitor this process. This refreshing process is probably faster than rehearsal, but it is unlikely to be possible as fast as the refreshing process assumed in the TBRS theory.

Abstract

Refreshing – briefly attending to an item in working memory – has been proposed as a domain-general maintenance process. According the time-based resource-sharing (TBRS) theory, people refresh the contents of working memory sequentially at high speed. We measured the speed of refreshing by asking participants to sequentially refresh a small set of items in sync with a metronome, and to adjust the metronome to the fastest speed at which they could refresh. Refreshing speeds converged on about 0.2 s per item for several verbal and visual materials. This time was shorter than the speed of articulatory rehearsal measured with the same method, and – in contrast to rehearsal – did not depend on word length. We sought evidence for people refreshing in sync with the metronome by presenting recognition probes at unpredictable times. We expected that probes matching the just-refreshed item should be recognized faster and more accurately than probes matching other items. This was not the case. A parallel experiment with overt articulatory rehearsal showed poor synchronization of rehearsal with the metronome, suggesting by analogy that refreshing was equally out of sync. The results support the assumption that people can attend sequential to items in working memory, and monitor this process. This refreshing process is probably faster than rehearsal, but it is unlikely to be possible as fast as the refreshing process assumed in the TBRS theory.

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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 > Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
Social Sciences & Humanities > Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
Social Sciences & Humanities > Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Experimental and Cognitive Psychology, Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous), Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
Language:English
Date:1 November 2020
Deposited On:18 Jan 2021 14:56
Last Modified:24 Feb 2024 02:40
Publisher:Springer
ISSN:0090-502X
OA Status:Hybrid
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.3758/s13421-020-01062-0
PubMed ID:32562250
Project Information:
  • : FunderSNSF
  • : Grant ID100014_149193
  • : Project TitleThe Role of Rehearsal in Working Memory
  • Content: Accepted Version
  • Language: English
  • Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)