Improving Working Memory

As readers of the Healthymemory Blog well know, the primary constraint on cognitive performance is our limitation in working memory. The simplest way of thinking about working memory is that it is the information you can hold at one time. Phone numbers are a common example, although they are less relevant with today’s technology than they use to be. But suppose someone shouts out a phone number you want before you can get to your desk and either write it down or dial it. It is likely that you will need to keep rehearsing the number or it will be forgotten before you return to your desk. Phone numbers might appear to be trivial, but working memory limits the number of ideas you can keep active in your memory at one time. In other words, it limits the number of things that you can actively think about at the same time. Unfortunately, working memory is a function that tends to decline as we age. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is the physiological substrate where working memory takes place. It requires glucose to operate. As working memory improves, the rate of glucose metabolism decreases (that is, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex functions more efficiently).

Given the importance of working memory, exercising it to improve its efficiency is highly recommended. Fortunately, there are exercises that do just that. Paul Verhaegen published a paper titled “A Working Memory Workout: How to Expand the Focus of Serial Attention from One to Four Items in 10 Hours or Less” published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, vol. 30. no.6, 2004. Suppose you toss a handful of coins, somewhere between 10 and 15, and then count the number of pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. The easiest way to do this is to count each denomination before moving to the next. Unfortunately, this places minimal demands on working memory. If you want to expand your working memory, begin by tossing two denominations of coins. Rather than counting them systematically, count them randomly removing each coin as you count it. Here you need to keep a running count of each denomination in working memory. This should be easy, but do this until you can count each denomination without error. Then move on to three denominations. This will place much greater demands on working memory as you need to keep track of three tallies. Keep doing this until you can do it accurately consistently. This might take some time, multiple days, weeks even. When this is mastered move on to four denominations and keep working until you can keep count of four denominations accurately. This will probably take even more time. But once you reach this point you will have reached what is currently as the capacity of working memory, four items. You can be proud to have a highly efficient dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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One Response to “Improving Working Memory”

  1. Procera Memory Says:

    So as opposed to walking at a continuous speed for say an hour, you would change points up by alternating brief bursts of intense walking for say a minute followed by a recovery period
    with slower walking soon after each and every intense time period.
    Just maintain alternating for twenty minutes to begin and
    include time as you become far more fit. It is possible to use interval education with all phases of
    theprocera memory to boost your success.

    Also after you do any kind of workout it is actually strongly advisable you drink
    plenty of water before in the course of and soon after to help keep your body adequately hydrated.

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