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Cogn Psychol. 2005 Aug;51(1):42-100. Epub 2005 Mar 2.

On the capacity of attention: its estimation and its role in working memory and cognitive aptitudes.

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Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Missouri, 18 McAlester Hall, Columbia, MO 65211, USA.


Working memory (WM) is the set of mental processes holding limited information in a temporarily accessible state in service of cognition. We provide a theoretical framework to understand the relation between WM and aptitude measures. The WM measures that have yielded high correlations with aptitudes include separate storage-and-processing task components, on the assumption that WM involves both storage and processing. We argue that the critical aspect of successful WM measures is that rehearsal and grouping processes are prevented, allowing a clearer estimate of how many separate chunks of information the focus of attention circumscribes at once. Storage-and-processing tasks correlate with aptitudes, according to this view, largely because the processing task prevents rehearsal and grouping of items to be recalled. In a developmental study, we document that several scope-of-attention measures that do not include a separate processing component, but nevertheless prevent efficient rehearsal or grouping, also correlate well with aptitudes and with storage-and-processing measures. So does digit span in children too young to rehearse.

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