Working memory: good old STM?

SG "SG" at $$$$$$ermine.ox.ac.uk
Tue Mar 24 10:30:23 EST 1998


F. Frank LeFever wrote:
 
> (2) The emphasis is not on memory per se but on USE of memory,
> involving momentary retrieval from long-term stores as well as
> short-term or immediate.  This includes timely "forgetting" of one item
> so that it can be replaced by another at the proper time, and thus an
> ongoing selective enhancement of one vs. another competing memory OR
> against the competition of an EXTERNAL stimulus (cf. the concept of
> "stimulus bound" behavior).


Working memory is first of all *associative* memory. 

Associative memory means that associations between some items is
involved. I use the word "item" in a broad sense: it can be some simple
or complex sensory input, or internal representation of sensory inputs
(such as memory for a particular environment or episode), a concept,
etc.)

The other type of associative memory is "reference memory".
Working memory critically differs from reference memory in the following
way:

REFERENCE memory: Association between items remain the same throughout
time. Every time the items (and their associations) are recalled, the
association becomes stronger.

WORKING memory: Associations change or reverse, thereby making old
associations useless or even contradictory to the current true state of
affairs. Repetitive recall of the items and their associations does not
help to build a stronger association. On the contrary, old associations
must be effectively inhibited.

----- An example: 

The location of your nearest supermarket and its car park is stored in
your reference memory. The more often you go there the better you know
the route. 

The car park is crowded and you have to park your car in a different
place every time you go shopping. The location of your car in the car
park is kept in your working memory. Every time the items are the same -
object "car" and environment "car park", but remembering where your car
was parked last time doesn't help you to find the car today. Quite the
opposite, for successful return to the car you must suppress, or
inhibit, the old association.

----- end of example


So, the critical feature of working memory is inhibition of old
associations rather than the time scale. This makes the terms "working
memory" and "short-term memory" not interchangeable (though often
working memory operates on the same time scale with short-term memory).


Thus, my definition of working memory is:

WORKING MEMORY is acquiring, storage and recall of new associations that
are to replace or to inhibit earlier, now irrelevant or contradictory,
associations related to the same item(s).


----- Proposal:

As the term "working memory" is currently used in many senses, shall we
use this opportunity and collectively try to compile a list of
definitions?
If there will be support to this idea, I will dig some proper literature
references from my old notes.

Best regards,

Sergei Gutnikov

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