Memory span

Memory span

In psychology and neuroscience, memory span is the longest list of items that a person can repeat back in correct order immediately after presentation on 50% of all trials. Items may include words, numbers, or letters. The task is known as digit span when numbers are used. Memory span is a common measure of short-term memory. It is also a component of cognitive ability tests such as the WAIS. Backward memory span is a more challenging variation which involves recalling items in reverse order.


Memory span as functional aspect

Functionally, memory span appears to measure the number of discrete units over which the individual can successively distribute his attention and still organize them into a working unit.To generalize, memory span refers to the ability of an individual to reproduce immediately, after one presentation, a series of discrete stimuli in their original order. Practically any sort of material may be presented, such as digits, letters, words, and sounds, and almost any sense organ or combination of sense organs may be used to receive the impressions.[1]

Memory span as structural aspect

A structural definition of memory span is difficult to give, for one immediately is faced by the distinctions between the prerequisites for memory span, and the actual processes involved. "Associability” is required in memory span. This term refers to the ability of the subject to group the series of elements together: to perceive relationships among the series in order to better reproduce them. Still another process involved in memory span is that of imagery. The subject, in order to be able to reproduce the series presented, must be able to image the series. The actual reproducing of the series of stimuli involves the process of memory. If the individual possessed no memory at all, reproduction of the series would be impossible. It is also known that memory span and memory are different in the length of time over which reproduction is possible. Memory span is transitory; memory is fairly permanent. In addition, the amount of material involved in memory span is ordinarily much less than the amount of material involved in memory. Reproduction of the series also involves certain other "reproduction factors," such as language ability and arithmetical proficiency.[2]

Factors which affect memory span

There are a number of factors which definitely affect memory span; the effects of practically all of these factors have been investigated in statistical and experimental studies. Some of the factors are extrinsic, or present in the testing situation itself. These factors, if not carefully controlled, cause the memory span test to be statistically unreliable. Other factors are intrinsic in the individual, and it is these factors which are the basis of "true" memory span. Though numerous factors affect memory span, the test is one that shows surprisingly high reliability. Results obtained by different investigators show that the reliability coefficients for memory span.

A. Extrinsic factors

(1) Characteristics of the material that is used: The characteristics of the material used will definitely affect the memory span score. If, for example, the material is all closely related, it will be much more easily reproduced. This relationship of the material is called the " coefficient of associability." Subjects also display an increased memory span for concrete words like hammer over abstract ones like justice.[3]

(2) Rhythm of the presentation of the material: Closely related to the problem of presenting the stimuli in groups, is the presentation of the stimuli in rhythmic fashion. Most investigators point out that the stimuli used in testing memory span should be presented with as little rhythm as possible. The effect of rhythm is to group the units in the series, again enabling the individual to secure a span higher than his "true" one.

(3) Rate of presentation of the stimuli: The speed with which the stimuli are presented has an effect on the memory span score attained. Actual experimental investigation also indicates that the speed of presenting the stimuli affects the score.

(4) Modality of presentation: Studies have shown a consistent increase in memory span for lists presented auditorally over ones presented visually.[4]

(5) Time required to vocalize responses: Memory span is consistently higher for short words than for long words.[5] This increase is due to the decreased amount of time needed to pronounce the shorter words, and studies have shown that memory span is approximately equal to the number of items which a subject can articulate in two seconds. A study of Welsh-English bilinguals confirmed this effect as it showed these subjects had larger digit spans for English numbers than for Welsh numbers, which take longer to pronounce.[6] The spans were equivalent when corrected for the time taken to articulate the digits.

(6) The method of scoring the responses: The method of scoring the responses also has an effect upon the apparent memory span of the individual. Variations in scoring are common; scarcely two investigators have scored alike. Most investigators take the point of view that an incorrect series should not be scored at all.

(7) Distraction: Naturally enough, one would expect that the greater the distraction present in the situation, the poorer would be the performance of the individual, and this is actually the case. The reason for this effect is apparent. Inasmuch as attention is one of the processes involved in the successful functioning of memory span, if the processes of attention are directed towards some other stimulus, they cannot operate effectively in the memory span function.[7]

B. Intrinsic factors

In addition to the factors here called "extrinsic", there are also certain "intrinsic" factors affecting memory span. It is these in which the psychologist is primarily interested. These intrinsic factors are those within the individual which work to produce his "true" or permanent memory span.

(1) Age of the individual: The age of the individual is a factor which definitely affects memory span. Memory span has been found to increase with age by a number of investigators. It should be pointed out that if the mental age of the individual does not increase, the memory span will not. So far as is known, memory span increases along with intelligence up to a similar age. A few investigators claim that memory span increases to a point somewhere between the sixteen- and twenty-six-year level, though a large number of workers believe that memory span remains constant after the individual reaches a point somewhere between 12 and 16 years.

(2) Sex of the individual: Sex may be another intrinsic factor affecting the memory span; there is some disagreement on this point. Thus we can reach no conclusion as to the role of sex in memory span. All we can do at this time is to note that sex may be a factor.

(3) Permanent Pathological Condition of the Individual: When the physical condition of the individual becomes permanently modified, the memory span has been found to be lower than that for a normal individual.

The memory span procedure

In a typical test of memory span, a list of random numbers or letters is read out loud or presented on a computer screen at the rate of one per second. The test begins with two to three numbers, increasing until the person commits errors. Recognizable patterns (for example 2, 4, 6, 8) should be avoided. At the end of a sequence, the person being tested is asked to recall the items in order. The average digit span for normal adults without error is seven plus or minus two.[8] However, memory span can be expanded dramatically - in one case to 80 digits - by learning a sophisticated system of recoding rules by which substrings of 5 to 10 digits are translated into one new chunk.[9]

From simple span to complex span

Research in the 1970s has shown that memory span with digits and words is only weakly related to performance in complex cognitive tasks such as text comprehension, which are assumed to depend on short-term memory.[10] This questioned the interpretation of memory span as a measure of the capacity of a central short-term memory or working memory. Daneman and Carpenter introduced an extended version of the memory span task which they called reading span.[11]

The reading span task was the first instance of the family of complex span tasks, which differ from the traditional simple span tasks by adding a processing demand to the requirement to remember a list of items. In complex span tasks encoding of the memory items (e.g., words) alternates with brief processing episodes (e.g., reading sentences). For example, the operation span task combines verification of brief mathematical equations such as "2+6/2 = 5?" with memory for a word or a letter that follows immediately after each equation.[12] Complex-span tasks have also been shown to be closely related to many other aspects of complex cognitive performance besides language comprehension, among other things to measures of fluid intelligence.[13][14]

The role of interference in memory span

There is the possibility that susceptibility to proactive interference(PI) affects performance on memory span measures. For older adults, span estimates increased with each PI-reducing manipulation; for younger adults, scores increased when multiple PI manipulations were combined or when PI-reducing manipulations were used in paradigms in which within-task PI was especially high. It is suggested that PI critically influences span performance. There might be the possibility that interference-proneness may influence cognitive behaviors previously thought to be governed by capacity.

PI-reducing procedures did act to improve span scores in many instances. The impact of PI is greater for older adults than for younger adults. Older adults showed relatively poor span performance when PI was maximal. By contrast, younger adults improved only when PI reductions were combined, suggesting that they are relatively resistant to PI. The fact that PI contributes to span performance raises a number of interesting possibilities with respect to previously held assumptions based on memory span performance. Working memory span tasks may measure interference-proneness in addition to capacity for both older and younger adults, suggest that resistance to interference may also affect performance on many cognitive tasks. Indeed, other studies show that individual differences in susceptibility to PI are predictive of scores on standard achievement tests.[15]

See also


  1. ^ Albert B. Blankenship(1938). The psychological bulletin, Vol. 35, No. 1, 2-3.
  2. ^ Humstone, H. J.(1919). Memory Span Tests. Psychol. Clin., 12, 196-200.
  3. ^ Walker, I.; Hulme, C. (1999). "Concrete words are easier to recall than abstract words: Evidence for a semantic contribution to short term serial recall". Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory, and Cognition 25 (5). 
  4. ^ Drewnowski, A.; Murdock, B. B. (1980). "The role of auditory features in memory span for words". Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory 6: 319–332. 
  5. ^ Baddeley, A. D.; Thomson, N., & Buchanan, M. (1975). "Word length and the structure of short-term memory". Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 14: 575–589. doi:10.1016/S0022-5371(75)80045-4. 
  6. ^ Ellis, N. C.; Hennelly, R. A. (February 1980). "A bilingual word-length effect: Implications for intelligence testing and the relative ease of mental calculation in Welsh and English". British Journal of Psychology 71 (1): 43–51. 
  7. ^ Lumiley, F. H., and Calhoon, S. W.(1934). Memory Span for Words Presented Auditorially. Appl. Psychol., 18, 773-784.
  8. ^ Miller, G. (1956). The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information, Psychological Review, 63, 81–97.
  9. ^ Ericsson, K. A., Delaney, P. F., Weaver, G., & Mahadevan, R. (2004). Uncovering the structure of a memorist's superior "basic" memory capacity. Cognitive Psychology, 49, 191-237
  10. ^ Perfetti, C. A., & Goldman, S. R. (1976). Discourse memory and reading comprehension skill. Journal of Verbal Learning & Verbal Behavior, 15, 33-42
  11. ^ Daneman, M., & Carpenter, P. A. (1980). Individual differences in working memory and reading. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 19, 450-466
  12. ^ Turner, M. L., & Engle, R. W. (1989). Is working memory capacity task dependent? Journal of Memory and Language, 28, 127-154
  13. ^ Kane, M. J., Hambrick, D. Z., Tuholski, S. W., Wilhelm, O., Payne, T. W., & Engle, R. W. (2004). The generality of working-memory capacity: A latent-variable approach to verbal and visuo-spatial memory span and reasoning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 133, 189-217
  14. ^ Conway, A. R. A., Kane, M. J., Bunting, M. F., Hambrick, D. Z., Wilhelm, O., & Engle, R. W. (2005). Working memory span tasks: A methodological review and user’s guide. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 12, 769-786
  15. ^ May, C.P., Hasher, L., & Kane, M.J. (1999). The role of interference in memory span. Memory & Cognition, 27, 759-767.

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Игры ⚽ Нужна курсовая?

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Memory span — The number of items, usually words or numbers, that a person can retain and recall. Memory span is a test of working memory (short term memory). In a typical test of memory span, an examiner reads a list of random numbers aloud at about the rate… …   Medical dictionary

  • memory span — noun The number of items, usually words or numbers, that a person can retain and recall. Memory span is a test of working memory (short term memory). [ …   Wiktionary

  • memory span — noun : the greatest amount (as the longest series of letters or digits) that can be perfectly reproduced by the subject after a single presentation by the experimenter * * * memory span noun (psychology) The capacity of a person s short term… …   Useful english dictionary

  • memory span — /ˈmɛmri spæn/ (say memree span) noun the period of time during which particular material can be remembered especially after having been learned under experimental conditions …  

  • memory-span — adjective noun …   Wiktionary

  • memory span — how far back a person can remember …   English contemporary dictionary

  • Memory, recent — Short term memory. Also called working memory. Recent memory is a system for temporarily storing and managing the information required to carry out complex cognitive tasks such as learning, reasoning, and comprehension. Recent memory is involved… …   Medical dictionary

  • Memory, short-term — A system for temporarily storing and managing information required to carry out complex cognitive tasks such as learning, reasoning, and comprehension. Short term memory is involved in the selection, initiation, and termination of information… …   Medical dictionary

  • Memory, working — Short term (recent) memory. Working memory is a system for temporarily storing and managing the information required to carry out complex cognitive tasks such as learning, reasoning, and comprehension. Working memory is involved in the selection …   Medical dictionary

  • span — n. 1) a brief span 2) an attention; life; memory span 3) in a span (in the brief span of ten years) * * * [spæn] life memory span a brief span an attention in a span (in the brief span of ten years) …   Combinatory dictionary

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”