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Working memory recruits long-term memory when it is beneficial: Evidence from the Hebb effect


Mizrak, Eda; Oberauer, Klaus (2022). Working memory recruits long-term memory when it is beneficial: Evidence from the Hebb effect. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 151(4):763-780.

Abstract

When encoding task-relevant information in working memory (WM), we can use prior knowledge to facilitate task performance. For instance, when memorizing a phone number, we can benefit from recognizing some parts as known chunks (e.g., 911) and focus on memorizing the novel parts. Prior knowledge from long-term memory (LTM), however, can also proactively interfere with WM contents. Here, we show that WM selectively recruits information from LTM only when it is helpful, not when it would interfere. We used variants of the Hebb paradigm in which WM is tested through immediate serial recall of lists. Some lists were repeated frequently across trials, so they were acquired in LTM, as reflected in increasing serial-recall performance across repetitions. We compared interference conditions in which that LTM knowledge could interfere with holding another list in WM to a neutral condition in which that knowledge could be neither beneficial nor harmful. In Experiments 1-3, lists in the interference conditions shared their items with the learned lists but not their order. We observed no proactive interference. In Experiments 4 and 5, the interference lists' first three items overlapped exactly with the learned lists, and only the remaining items had a new order. This made LTM knowledge partially beneficial and partially harmful. Participants could use LTM flexibly to improve performance for the first part of the list without experiencing interference on the second half. LTM-mediated learning of the first part even boosted memory for the unknown second part. We conclude that there is a flexible gate controlling the flow of information from LTM and WM so that LTM knowledge is recruited only when helpful.

Abstract

When encoding task-relevant information in working memory (WM), we can use prior knowledge to facilitate task performance. For instance, when memorizing a phone number, we can benefit from recognizing some parts as known chunks (e.g., 911) and focus on memorizing the novel parts. Prior knowledge from long-term memory (LTM), however, can also proactively interfere with WM contents. Here, we show that WM selectively recruits information from LTM only when it is helpful, not when it would interfere. We used variants of the Hebb paradigm in which WM is tested through immediate serial recall of lists. Some lists were repeated frequently across trials, so they were acquired in LTM, as reflected in increasing serial-recall performance across repetitions. We compared interference conditions in which that LTM knowledge could interfere with holding another list in WM to a neutral condition in which that knowledge could be neither beneficial nor harmful. In Experiments 1-3, lists in the interference conditions shared their items with the learned lists but not their order. We observed no proactive interference. In Experiments 4 and 5, the interference lists' first three items overlapped exactly with the learned lists, and only the remaining items had a new order. This made LTM knowledge partially beneficial and partially harmful. Participants could use LTM flexibly to improve performance for the first part of the list without experiencing interference on the second half. LTM-mediated learning of the first part even boosted memory for the unknown second part. We conclude that there is a flexible gate controlling the flow of information from LTM and WM so that LTM knowledge is recruited only when helpful.

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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
Language:English
Date:1 April 2022
Deposited On:01 Nov 2021 14:05
Last Modified:25 Feb 2024 02:47
Publisher:American Psychological Association
ISSN:0096-3445
Additional Information:Preprint under: https://psyarxiv.com/ryqj9/
OA Status:Green
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1037/xge0000934
Related URLs:https://psyarxiv.com/ryqj9/
PubMed ID:34582234
  • Content: Accepted Version