Working memory matters!

For over 20 years I’ve been thinking about working memory in primarily two ways.  We accept  working memory as functioning as a visual-spatial sketch pad and as a  phonological loop.  Put simply, visualizing and rehearsing information by repeating it were the ways in which most of us recognized working memory.  By working memory, we mean that special type of short-term memory that allows us to hold information in mind long enough to solve a task.  For example, think about how you might remember the correct sequence to a new combination lock fiddle with the dial to open your locker.

The Visual-Spatial Sketchpad (VSS) allows us to work with our imaginations in a visual way.  We may remember the shape, color and location of an object as an imperfect picture.  If you are imagining where you need to go while walking down a hallway, then you recognize the  VSS.   The Phonological Loop (PL) works on information which requires a specific order to have relevance or meaning.  Imagine thinking about an unfamiliar  phone number or a series of steps shown to you in an unfamiliar math problem.   We often use the PL as a strategy  when processing language or other auditory information.

In 2000, scientists began to discuss a third type of working memory. This would be known as  the Episodic Buffer (EB).  The EB  helps to  contextualize information in a meaningful way. EB is a short-term working memory function that appears to take place primarily in the frontal lobes.  We use it to suddenly  pull information together in a meaningful way to recall events or complete a task.  The EB can bring information together from many sources to create a single episode or unified memory.

Three ways to enhance your working memory include:

1. Make use of your VSS, practice visualizing things. Hold math problems in your head.  See the quantities, not only the symbols.  You may actually take your finger and draw problems in space and then hold them in your head as execute the operation.

2. SET is a terrific game for enhancing working memory, categorization and strategizing.  I demonstrate the game in a earlier blog post.

3. Poker, bridge, and chess are other ways to practice holding information in your brain and manipulating it for successful output.

4. Physical exercise, especially aerobic activity, has a strong and measurable effect on these types of thinking.

So much learning depends on working memory strategies.  We might consider attention, problem solving and conceptual thinking as depending on working memory . Playing games and practicing strategies can really help. Sudoko to you!

Published by drmartinfletcher

Martin Fletcher, Psy.D, L.P. Dr. Martin Fletcher is the Shrink of The Shepherd and the Shrink Podcast. He is in private practice at Renew Hope Counseling where he also supervises a team of talented clinicians. In late 2019 Dr. Marty teamed up w/ Dr. Matt Hook to respond to the growing mental health crisis. The goal is to help people create healthy spiritual lives in order to restore meaning and purpose to individuals, families, and communities. Psychology meets spirituality. Dr. Fletcher holds advanced degrees in clinical psychology and education. His treatment approach involves quickly reducing symptoms while helping patients design and maintain health promoting lifestyles. Dr. Fletcher is a husband to Kathy and dad to 3 sons and one daughter. His interests include fitness, guitar, motorcycles, mountain biking, and exploring the role of spirituality in health. Dr. Fletcher is fully licensed in the State of Michigan.

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