Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What limits working memory capacity? Evidence for modality-specific sources to the simultaneous stor

There is considerable debate on whether working memory (WM) storage is mediated by distinct subsystems for auditory and visual stimuli (Baddeley, 1986) or whether it is constrained by a single, central capacity-limited system (Cowan, 2006). Recent studies have addressed this issue by measuring the dual-task cost during the concurrent storage of auditory and visual arrays (e.g., Cocchini, Logie, Della Sala, MacPherson, & Baddeley, 2002; Fougnie & Marois, 2006; Saults & Cowan, 2007). However, studies have yielded widely different dual-task costs, which have been taken to support both modality-specific and central capacity-limit accounts of WM storage. Here, we demonstrate that the controversies regarding such costs mostly stem from how these costs are measured. Measures that compare combined dual-task capacity with the higher single-task capacity support a single, central WM store when there is a large disparity between the single-task capacities (Experiment 1) but not when the single-task capacities are well equated (Experiment 2). In contrast, measures of the dual-task cost that normalize for differences in single-task capacity reveal evidence for modality-specific stores, regardless of single-task performance. Moreover, these normalized measures indicate that dual-task cost is much smaller if the tasks do not involve maintaining bound feature representations in WM (Experiment 3). Taken together, these experiments not only resolve a discrepancy in the field and clarify how to assess the dual-task cost but also indicate that WM capacity can be constrained both by modality-specific and modality-independent sources of information processing. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2011 APA, all rights reserved)

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Kevin McGrew, PhD
Educational Psychologist

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