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: 2.86). 08/2009; 35(4):1089-96. DOI: 10.1037/a0015730
Source: PubMed


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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    • "2.2.4. Alpha span (EF — updating) A version of this task was created by modifying the procedure used by Schmiedek et al. (2009). Ten letters appeared sequentially in the centre of computer screen, with each having a number (from 1 to 10) displayed below it. "
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    ABSTRACT: This study examined the relationship among multifaceted functions of working memory, namely central executive functions (shifting, inhibition and updating) and short-term storage components (phonological loop and visuo-spatial sketchpad), and general intelligence in 110 healthy participants using structural equation modelling. The key findings support a multidimensional model of the central executive in showing that updating, inhibition and short-term storage differentially correlate with general intelligence, including both fluid and crystallized intelligence. These results suggest that both processing and storage components of working memory contribute to the relation with general intelligence.
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    • "At each measurement occasion different versions of the tasks were used. One of the working memory capacity tasks used in this intensive longitudinal study was a memory updating task (Oberauer et al., 2000, 2003; Schmiedek et al., 2009). "
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    ABSTRACT: In the present paper we investigate weekly fluctuations in the working memory capacity (WMC) assessed over a period of 2 years. We use dynamical system analysis, specifically a second order linear differential equation, to model weekly variability in WMC in a sample of 112 9th graders. In our longitudinal data we use a B-spline imputation method to deal with missing data. The results show a significant negative frequency parameter in the data, indicating a cyclical pattern in weekly memory updating performance across time. We use a multilevel modeling approach to capture individual differences in model parameters and find that a higher initial performance level and a slower improvement at the MU task is associated with a slower frequency of oscillation. Additionally, we conduct a simulation study examining the analysis procedure's performance using different numbers of B-spline knots and values of time delay embedding dimensions. Results show that the number of knots in the B-spline imputation influence accuracy more than the number of embedding dimensions.
    Full-text · Article · Jul 2014 · Frontiers in Psychology
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    • "Tau indexes the exponential component of the RT distribution and reflects the subset of extremely slow responses that otherwise have a strong influence on mean RT and standard deviation of RT calculation. Tau is similar conceptually to a distribution's skewness, but is considered a more reliable metric (Schmiedek et al., 2007). A latent factor was created using principal components factor analysis separately for sigma (59.87% variance accounted for; both factor loadings r ϭ .77; "
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    ABSTRACT: Objective: The current study examined competing predictions of the default mode, cognitive neuroenergetic, and functional working memory models of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) regarding the relation between neurocognitive impairments in working memory and intraindividual variability. Method: Twenty-two children with ADHD and 15 typically developing children were assessed on multiple tasks measuring intraindividual reaction time (RT) variability (ex-Gaussian: tau, sigma) and central executive (CE) working memory. Latent factor scores based on multiple, counterbalanced tasks were created for each construct of interest (CE, tau, sigma) to reflect reliable variance associated with each construct and remove task-specific, test-retest, and random error. Results: Bias-corrected, bootstrapped mediation analyses revealed that CE working memory accounted for 88% to 100% of ADHD-related RT variability across models, and between-group differences in RT variability were no longer detectable after accounting for the mediating role of CE working memory. In contrast, RT variability accounted for 10% to 29% of between-group differences in CE working memory, and large magnitude CE working memory deficits remained after accounting for this partial mediation. Statistical comparison of effect size estimates across models suggests directionality of effects, such that the mediation effects of CE working memory on RT variability were significantly greater than the mediation effects of RT variability on CE working memory. Conclusions: The current findings question the role of RT variability as a primary neurocognitive indicator in ADHD and suggest that ADHD-related RT variability may be secondary to underlying deficits in CE working memory.
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