Key Concepts Applied: Working Memory, Short-term Memory, Executive Functioning, Intelligence, Vision, Language, MRIs
My final topic for this semester is a nervy one: Dr. Rettinger’s “How are Visuospatial Work Memory, Executive Functioning, and Spatial Abilities Related? A Latent-Variable Analysis” which was published in 2001 in the Journal of Experimental Psychology:General. Who does this? Who writes about the professor teaching the course in his specialty? Apparently, I am this ridiculously foolish person.
I believe Dr. Rettinger alluded to this article a few times at the beginning of the semester, so I was naturally curious and wanted to read his work. His article, “How are Visuospatial Working Memory, Executive Functioning, and Spatial Abilities Related? A Latent-Variable Analysis”, is absolute, pure cognitive psychology. I think a greater challenge would be to find pieces of the article that do NOT pertain to cognitive psychology; but let me tell you about the article, so you can discern for yourself! Dr. Rettinger, I am sincerely sorry if I butcher my attempt at analyzing your work!
Concepts of Interest
The first goal of this study is to identify the relationship between short-term memory, which is storage-oriented, and working memory, which is both storage and processing oriented, in the visuospatial domain as well their relationship to the central executive.
The second goal of this study seeks to examine how the three spatial abilities (spatial visualization, spatial relations, and perceptual speed) are related to executive functioning and the visuospatial sketchpad.
Details of the Study
167 undergraduate students at the University of Colorado at Boulder were recruited for this study. The students completed 12 tasks: 2 for Executive Functioning (Tower of Hanoi task and random number generation task), 2 for Visuospatial STM tasks (Corsi Blocks and dot memory task), 2 for Visuospatial WM tasks (letter rotation task and dot matrix task), and then a set of psychometrics to test their spatial abilities for spatial visualizations (Paper Folding Test), spatial relations (Flags Test), and perceptual speed (Identical Pictures Test).
You guys might remember the paper folding test from our Intelligence ZAPS! I did terribly on this task! Digression of the day: “Back in the day”, an internet IQ test told me my IQ is 130. In reality, especially if the test is timed, I would likely be at a 95. I am soooooo slooooow and, not to mention, quite basic! My uncle on my mom’s side worked for IBM and NASA, and my dad is a rocket scientist/computer scientist/ultra “nerd”. Unfortunately, I inherited the recessive genes of pure stupidity. It’s not fair!! Wait, no, just kidding. My IQ is TOTALLY 130….. #beliefperseverance
Speaking of being a ‘genius’, it is time to fast forward passed the nerdy, general procedural ‘stuff’ that is ‘over my head’ to the interesting, juicy ‘stuff’!
Summarily, the researchers conclude that visuospatial working memory and visuospatial short-term memory are related, (r=.86). Not only is there a relationship between these types of memory for the visuospatial domain, but executive functioning is equally associated to visuospatial working memory (r=0.55) and to visuospatial short-term memory (r=0.56). The researchers contrast these results to previous results of working memory and short-term memory for the verbal domain. For the verbal domain, working memory and short-term memory are easily differentiated. The central executive is less involved in the verbal domain.
After establishing the interrelationship between STM and WM visuospatial memory and the central executive, the researchers addressed the roles of visuospatial storage and executive functioning for the three spatial abilities of visualizations, relations, and perceptual speed. The researchers concluded that the central executive played the greatest role for spatial visualizations and was least involved for perceptual speed. Secondly, all three spatial abilities required visuospatial storage, but also depend on executive functioning. The researchers emphasize the substantial relationships between spatial abilities and the working memory constructs!
At the end of the article, the authors infer that the results of their study supports that the phenomenon, “g”, AKA, general fluid intelligence, is measurable. (We JUST covered this in class!!) The authors close their article asserting that additional research on working memory would complement humanity’s understanding on intelligence.
Initially, the assertion that the central executive has a stronger association with the visuospatial domain than the verbal domain was surprising and counterintuitive. After I gave it some thought, the notion of the relationship of executive functioning and the visuospatial domain makes more sense. *Most* people on average have perfect use of our eyes. We are CONSTANTLY encoding sensory input visually. Like Rettinger has mentioned in class, a huge portion of our brains are dedicated for just visual processing. Vision allows us to navigate space. I am speculating here, but my hunch is that the interrelationships between working memory, short-term memory, and executive functioning might not be AS strong for the verbal domain, because the verbal domain might be relatively ‘new’ for humans. As long as we have been evolving, our eyes (and minds) have guided and protected us from predators. At least, language is one of our ‘newer’ skillsets, I think. This is interesting, too, because as we have learned in class, language also greatly influences our cognitive processes; but is language universal across cultures? In any case, our eyes developed first, and obviously, our brains interpret that information first (PRIMACY EFFECT, just kidding). Before I wrap up my blog, I want to make sure I give proper credit to the researchers of the study, because honesty is the best policy. Everything above “Valencian Thoughts” is all their work. Please feel free to read the article for yourselves, my dear fellow, students! Finally, I need to say, something I hate (and love) about many theories in psychology is that we are comparing constructs against constructs, like in the present article, working memory versus short-term memory versus executive functioning versus intelligence. The beauty of the present times is now we have all these fancy machines to test our theories of these constructs. I recently remembered an old favorite song of mine, “IRM”, by Charlotte Gainsbourg, which means “Imagerie par résonance magnétique”, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). I believe the music contains actual MRI ‘beats’. Enjoy!
Miyake, A., Friedman, N. P., Rettinger, D. A., Shah, P., & Hegarty, M. (2001). How are visuospatial working memory, executive functioning, and spatial abilities related? A latent-variable analysis. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 130(4), 621-640. doi:10.1037/0096-34184.108.40.2061
Reisburg, D. (2016). Cognition: exploring the science of the mind.