Tag Archives: working memory

I Might Have A Bad Memory – Sophia Kovalcik


For the entirety of my childhood, most of my adolescence, and my current young-adult life, I have dealt with memory problems. Early on in my life, my poor working memory and executive functioning primarily showed up in an educational setting. I would read, and then re-read paragraphs or definitions and have little to no recall of the information. Nowadays, its more of a social issue. I find myself asking my friends a random question about their lives much too often, sometimes even multiple times a week. I also get lost easily, even in familiar environments. In short, having a poor memory will definitely impact one’s ability to retain information that plays in sequences. After learning about the episodic buffer in class, I wondered if my working memory, central executive or, and more specifically my episodic buffer process, are manipulated by my ADHD diagnosis. 

A study conducted via both the Department of Psychology at Florida State University and University of Mississippi Medical Center Department of Pediatrics, focused on the episodic buffer component of working memory in children with ADHD. The study defines working memory as “a limited capacity, multicomponent system that serves a critical role in planning and guiding everyday behavior.” The episodic buffer defined in this study as a part of memory that is elicited when information from multiple modalities must be compiled and stored as a single chunk of information.

Why is this process so important? According to this study, day-to-day activities of individuals are likely to rely on the episodic buffer. For example, linking a name of a building with a physical location is important if someone like myself needs to remember a complex route to the library. The episodes buffer helps when integrating what someone is saying and their non-verbal body language, or when I have to follow multiple steps of a lab procedure. 

The study was conducted across multiple testing days. A sample of 86 children (ages 8– 13) with ADHD and without ADHD were told to complete three working memory tests. These tests were the same in all aspects except for the key process: phonological, visuospatial, and episodic buffer. The episodic buffer working memory task combined the phonological and visuospatial tasks. Children were shown a series of numbers and a letter that appeared in visuospatial squares. Children were told to remember the spatial location of each number or letter. They then were instructed to reorder the numbers in ascending order and put the letter last. Thus, the episodic buffer test required the children to connect the phonological, which were the numbers and letters, with visuospatial elements (the location each appearing number or letter). 

The results of this study indicated that that adding episodic buffer demands resulted in decreased accuracy for both groups. The ADHD group of children  demonstrated similarly large deficits on all three tasks. Thus, their performance deficits on the episodic buffer task can be better explained by their overall executive function deficits, rather than a unique problem with the episodic buffer. Therefore, learning about this study reconfirmed that a poor memory has its effects on the day-to-day lives of those who have ADHD. It also showed me that my episodic buffer works closely both working memory and central executive functions  🙂  

Do you remember as well as you think?

Contrary to what you think, you probably do not remember things as accurately as you think. A study done in 1988 by Ulric Neisser proved that many of our memories change overtime and become somewhat inaccurate. Neisser handed out a survey to some of his students following the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion. He asked them where they were when they heard, who they were with, and what they were doing. Neisser followed up two years later asking the students the same questions. He ranked their accuracy on a scale of 7. On average, students got less than 3 with 25 percent receiving a zero.

Scientists think memory begins with encoding. The memory is then consolidated until reaching the final step remembering or retrieving the memory. Each and every time you remember something, the neural pathway to that memory gets stronger. This could be why the students were inaccurate in remembering where they were or who they were with. I would assume that the students did not access those memories frequently so, the neural pathway to those memories was not strong.

This could be why many studies have shown it is better to study for 2 to 3 hours and then take a break instead of cramming for 8 hours. The more times you revisit the learned information the stronger the neural pathway. This makes the memory easier to retrieve come test time. If you are just cramming the information over and over again you are not allowing the information to go through the cycle of formation. When you access that information so quickly after introduction, you are not fully retrieving it.

In all, I found this video most helpful in beginning to understand the complexities of memory.

Note taking by using computer makes you better recall

When you get into the college, have you ever agonized about your note-taking skills? For me, studying in high school and studying in college was drastically different. Professors talk about a variety of fields and I have to remember all of the main points and examples at the same time. Thus, my freshman grade was pretty bad and I had to take advice from my parents and professors to improve my study skills. There are many ways to review what you’ve learned, but this journal gave me a new perspective of recalling memory. You might’ve had to take notes by using a computer instead of hand writing them. If you have a lecture where your professor talks really fast or talks a lot, you might have used or thought to use a computer to take notes.

The study I want to share is about improving memory recollection by using the alternative note-taking skill I’ve previously mentioned; transcribing by using a computer. This experiment was conducted by Dung C. Bui, Joel Myerson, and Sandra Hale of Washington University. They hypothesized three things, but here, I want to focus on the first experiment. The researchers wanted to compare taking notes by hand with taking notes using a computer in terms of their effects on test performance. The researchers gathered eighty undergraduate students and tested free recall and short answer after showing them a lecture. There were four conditions: Hand_organized, Hand_transcribed, Computer_organized, Computer_transcribed. As a result, there was more recall when using a computer than when using your hand to take notes when transcribing a lecture. This study explained the limitations of writing by hand due to the speed of writing and the length of time. Also, considering the aspect of the quantity of the notes, working memory had a relationship with recall ability. In another blog, I found a study where students who took notes using a computer wrote an average of 310 words per lecture while students who took notes by hand wrote an average of 173 words. This number supports the finding that using the computer is much faster in inputting words.

Summarizing shortly about the second and third experiment, organized notes were better in recalling delayed test performance than transcribed notes, but not for immediate test performance. Also, in terms of note-quantity, if the note was transcribed, the quantity could be greater. Next, the researcher hypothesized that working memory is related to recalling. In addition, working memory is essential for effective note-taking. If there is an individual difference, it is due to the variance of working memory abilities that have an effect on organized notes, not on transcribed notes. So the second and third experiments were vital to support the first experiment and explain the exempted situations.

Myself, I like taking transcribed notes by hand or paraphrasing what the professor is saying in my notes. This type of skill is good for weekly quizzes but not for the mid-term or final exam. According to this research, I should have taken notes based on transcribed notes for the final. Especially if I am going to write transcribed notes during the lecture, I think I’d better use my laptop than my hand so that I don’t have to always ask the professor about points I missed. If you were worrying about your own note-taking style, this research might help you develop the proper studying-skills for each situation. Again, this is based on the result of test performance. The strong point of this research is it defines the situations well so that you don’t doubt any exceptions or questions in your mind. The conclusion is shortly after using your computer, you can write a lot during class especially if it is typed. Yet, there are a lot of situations that need another style of note-taking skill. I hope that you, the reader, will use this post to switch between note taking skills. If you haven’t tried to do so, I think that this is a good method to study.