Theories of Working Memory: Differences in Definition, Degree of Modularity, Role of Attention, and Purpose Purpose The purpose of this article is to review and discuss theories of working memory with special attention to their relevance to language processing. Method We begin with an overview of the concept of working memory itself and review some of the major theories. Then, we show how ... Review Article
Review Article  |   July 05, 2018
Theories of Working Memory: Differences in Definition, Degree of Modularity, Role of Attention, and Purpose
 
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Eryn J. Adams
    Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Missouri, Columbia
  • Anh T. Nguyen
    Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Missouri, Columbia
  • Nelson Cowan
    Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Missouri, Columbia
  • Disclosure: The authors have declared that no competing interests existed at the time of publication.
    Disclosure: The authors have declared that no competing interests existed at the time of publication.×
  • Correspondence to Nelson Cowan: cowann@missouri.edu
  • Editor-in-Chief: Sean Redmond
    Editor-in-Chief: Sean Redmond×
  • Editor: Ron Gillam
    Editor: Ron Gillam×
  • Publisher Note: This article is part of the Clinical Forum: Working Memory in School-Age Children.
    Publisher Note: This article is part of the Clinical Forum: Working Memory in School-Age Children.×
Article Information
Clinical Forum: Working Memory in School-Age Children / Review Article
Review Article   |   July 05, 2018
Theories of Working Memory: Differences in Definition, Degree of Modularity, Role of Attention, and Purpose
Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, July 2018, Vol. 49, 340-355. doi:10.1044/2018_LSHSS-17-0114
History: Received October 13, 2017 , Revised January 25, 2018 , Accepted February 18, 2018
 
Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, July 2018, Vol. 49, 340-355. doi:10.1044/2018_LSHSS-17-0114
History: Received October 13, 2017; Revised January 25, 2018; Accepted February 18, 2018

Purpose The purpose of this article is to review and discuss theories of working memory with special attention to their relevance to language processing.

Method We begin with an overview of the concept of working memory itself and review some of the major theories. Then, we show how theories of working memory can be organized according to their stances on 3 major issues that distinguish them: modularity (on a continuum from domain-general to very modular), attention (on a continuum from automatic to completely attention demanding), and purpose (on a continuum from idiographic, or concerned with individual differences, to nomothetic, or concerned with group norms). We examine recent research that has a bearing on these distinctions.

Results Our review shows important differences between working memory theories that can be described according to positions on the 3 continua just noted.

Conclusion Once properly understood, working memory theories, methods, and data can serve as quite useful tools for language research.

Acknowledgments
This work was completed with support from National Institutes of Health Grant R01 HD-21338 to Cowan.
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