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J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2007 May;33(3):615-22.

Working memory, attention control, and the N-back task: a question of construct validity.

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Department of PsychologyUniversity of North Carolina at Greensboro, Greensboro, NC 27402-6170, USA.


The N-back task requires participants to decide whether each stimulus in a sequence matches the one that appeared n items ago. Although N-back has become a standard "executive" working memory (WM) measure in cognitive neuroscience, it has been subjected to few behavioral tests of construct validity. A combined experimental- correlational study tested the attention-control demands of verbal 2- and 3-back tasks by presenting n = 1 "lure" foils. Lures elicited more false alarms than control foils in both 2- and 3-back tasks, and lures caused more misses to targets that immediately followed them compared with control targets, but only in 3-back tasks. N-back thus challenges control over familiarity-based responding. Participants also completed a verbal WM span task (operation span task) and a marker test of general fluid intelligence (Gf; Ravens Advanced Progressive Matrices Test; J. C. Raven, J. E. Raven, & J. H. Court, 1998). N-back and WM span correlated weakly, suggesting they do not reflect primarily a single construct; moreover, both accounted for independent variance in Gf. N-back has face validity as a WM task, but it does not demonstrate convergent validity with at least 1 established WM measure.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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