Working memory: good old STM?

F. Frank LeFever flefever at
Mon Mar 23 23:13:38 EST 1998

The good old term "short-term memory" has many more definitions (rarely
made explicit) than working memory, in my experience.  Or perhaps it is
just one "general" and reundant definition (i.e. memory which is short)
but the parameters vary widely with the author or speaker--one has in
mind durations on the order  of seconds, another minutes, and yet
another days...  In the Peterson & Peterson paradigm  (if I recall
correctly), STM became LTM at about 18 seconds...

"Working memory" in the sense I have emphasized, because of its
clinical as well as theoretical importance, differs from STM in two
 (1) There is less ambiguity about the time frame.  In contrast to
definitions which might require simply remembering the rules of a task
through the duration of that task (which may be several minutes at
least), this one emphasizes moment-to-moment memory, more in the range
of durations of what some might cite as defining "immediate" memory.

(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).

Yes, yes, of course this sounds like the good old concepts of
"attention" and "concentration" and "freedom from distraction" (cf.
Mirsky for dissections of the concept of "attention").  Current
behavioral and anatomical investigations of "working memory" can be
seen as ways to clarify and make explicit the ideas underlying these
good old terms.

F. LeFever
NY Neuropsychology Group

In <6f70or$1ko at> mtaffe at (Mike Taffe) writes: 
>In article <35167CC8.4FA054F3 at>,
>marcello spinella  <optimism32 at> wrote:
>>Unless he continues to rehearse it or is distrated, the info can be
maintained, but
>>shortly after it rapidly decays.  Perhaps the hippocampal role in WM
is to carry
>>the contents of WM in to LTM.
>How is this "working memory"?  you seem to have merely substituted WM
for the traditional concept of
>short-term memory.  Do you consider working memory to be a unique
concept or just a semantic
>substitution for traditional memory categorization?
>Michael Taffe, Ph.D        *  mtaffe at         
>Dept. of Neuropharmacology, The Scripps Research Institute
>(619) 784-7247		   *

More information about the Neur-sci mailing list