Working memory

Mike Taffe mtaffe at
Mon Mar 23 19:58:53 EST 1998

In article <6f4hup$rv9 at>,
F. Frank LeFever <flefever at> wrote:
>(bytheway: has no one besides me read anything but rat literature or
>anything since c. 1988? I think even in the rat literature they have

>profound importance of the prefrontal cortex of higher primates, anyone
>discussing "working memory" without a good knowledge of
>primate--including human--neuropsychology is not playing with a full

I don't think that this has much to do with the problem at hand which would seem to lie in
operationalization of the concept "working memory".  G-R and others have done a nice job of showing
involvement of the pre-frontal areas in memory.  Mishkin, Gaffan, Z-M and their respective
colleagues have done an elegant job of showing involvement of the temporal structures in memory.
Each and every paper has included at least one construct of "memory" to explain the pattern of
deficits exhibited by the subject primates.  The difference between the two is that at least in the
case of the temporal lobe memory wars, the participants have more or less utilized the same task so
that when they talk about the construct (episodic memory, short-term recognition memory or what have
you) you can be pretty much assured that they're talking about delayed (non) matching to sample.  In
contrast, the "working memory" crowd is all over the map.  spatial delayed response tasks (grids a
la bartus or voytko, Hamilton search (levin and bowman)), spatial search (cantab folks), and now
I've seen DNMS and delayed match to position represented as "working memory" tasks.  Well, to my eye
the requirements of all these tasks is varied to the extent that it is difficult to
get a handle on what the core concept and therefore target processes ARE in the so-called "working"
memory studies.  Don't get me wrong, I think that accurate performance in traditional DNMS requires
some different processes and presumably structures than say, delayed spatial response to a limited
matrix BUT this difference is blurred by the indiscretion with which the term working memory is used
in the literature.  so I now find it to be a useless term for describing the difference that I might
once have thought of as "working" aspects of memory.

Michael Taffe, Ph.D        *  mtaffe at         
Dept. of Neuropharmacology, The Scripps Research Institute
(619) 784-7247		   *

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