Working memory

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Working memory is a subset of short-term memory that holds information for limited time, and is accessible to the conscious mind. New information is stored in working memory, and may be used in problem solving while we are awake. Reactivated long-term memories can also take part in reasoning, and contribute to the working memory space (see: Conceptual computation).

During sleep, most of the information that passed through working memory is forgotten. However, some of it may enter long-term storage with the usual stability on the order of days. Further survival of memories require review or re-activation (incl. reactivation in sleep). For efficient retention in the long-term we can use spaced repetition.

To maximize intelligence, the brain attempts to keep a minimum model of the processed reality in working memory. This facilitates problem solving. There are many training procedures aimed at increasing the span of working memory in a false belief it can boost intelligence. As creative individuals may experience trouble staying focused, the heavy reliance on working memory at school may negatively affect the self-esteem (see: 50 bad habits learned at school).

In problem solving, the right approach is to capitalize on the long-term storage, which can lead to equivalent conceptual computation with the added benefit of generalization that comes in the wake of forgetting. Simple models used in reasoning increase the computational power of the brain. Unless speed is at a premium, working memory should be let evolve naturally to optimally serve reasoning. For details see: How to solve any problem?

See also: Working memory is not trainable

This glossary entry is used to explain texts in SuperMemo Guru series on memory, learning, creativity, and problem solving