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Psychol Rev. 1992 Jan;99(1):122-49.

A capacity theory of comprehension: individual differences in working memory.

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Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213.


A theory of the way working memory capacity constrains comprehension is proposed. The theory proposes that both processing and storage are mediated by activation and that the total amount of activation available in working memory varies among individuals. Individual differences in working memory capacity for language can account for qualitative and quantitative differences among college-age adults in several aspects of language comprehension. One aspect is syntactic modularity: The larger capacity of some individuals permits interaction among syntactic and pragmatic information, so that their syntactic processes are not informationally encapsulated. Another aspect is syntactic ambiguity: The larger capacity of some individuals permits them to maintain multiple interpretations. The theory is instantiated as a production system model in which the amount of activation available to the model affects how it adapts to the transient computational and storage demands that occur in comprehension.

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