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Q J Exp Psychol A. 2004 Aug;57(6):1059-84.

What happens to information to be suppressed in working-memory tasks? Short and long term effects.

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University of Padova, Padova, Italy.


The study explored, from an individual differences point of view, what happens to information to be suppressed in a working-memory task at short and long term. In particular, it was examined whether control mechanisms of irrelevant information in working memory imply their complete elimination from working memory or just the modulation of their activation. To this end, we compared the fate of irrelevant information in groups of subjects with high and low reading comprehension (Experiments 1 and 2) and subjects with high and low working memory (Experiments 1, 2, 3, and 4). All the experiments presented a working-memory task devised by De Beni, Palladino, Pazzaglia, and Cornoldi (1998), which required participants to process lists of words, to tap when a word from a particular category was presented, and then to recall only the last items in each list. Results confirmed that participants with high reading comprehension also have higher working memory and make less intrusion errors due to irrelevant items that have to be processed but then discarded. Furthermore, it was found that participants with low working memory have slightly better implicit (Experiment 1) and explicit memory (Experiments 3 and 4) of highly activated irrelevant information. Nevertheless, in a long-term recognition test, participants with high and low reading comprehension/working memory presented a similar pattern of memory for different types of irrelevant information (Experiment 2), whereas in a short-term memory recognition test, low-span participants presented a facilitation effect in the time required for the recognition of highly activated irrelevant information (Experiment 4). It was concluded that efficient working-memory performance is related to the temporary reduction of activation of irrelevant information but does not imply its elimination from memory.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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