Complex span versus updating tasks of working memory: the gap is not that deep.

Center for Lifespan Psychology, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany.
Journal of Experimental Psychology Learning Memory and Cognition (Impact Factor: 3.1). 08/2009; 35(4):1089-96. DOI: 10.1037/a0015730
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT How to best measure working memory capacity is an issue of ongoing debate. Besides established complex span tasks, which combine short-term memory demands with generally unrelated secondary tasks, there exists a set of paradigms characterized by continuous and simultaneous updating of several items in working memory, such as the n-back, memory updating, or alpha span tasks. With a latent variable analysis (N = 96) based on content-heterogeneous operationalizations of both task families, the authors found a latent correlation between a complex span factor and an updating factor that was not statistically different from unity (r = .96). Moreover, both factors predicted fluid intelligence (reasoning) equally well. The authors conclude that updating tasks measure working memory equally well as complex span tasks. Processes involved in building, maintaining, and updating arbitrary bindings may constitute the common working memory ability underlying performance on reasoning, complex span, and updating tasks.

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