We present an easy-to-administer and automated version of a popular working memory (WM) capacity task (operation span; Ospan) that is mouse driven, scores itself, and requires little intervention on the part of the experimenter. It is shown that this version of Ospan correlates well with other measures of WM capacity and has both good internal consistency (alpha=.78) and test-retest reliability (.83). In addition, the automated version of Ospan (Aospan) was shown to load on the same factor as two other WM measures. This WM capacity factor correlated with a factor composed of fluid abilities measures. The utility of the Aospan was further demonstrated by analyzing response times (RTs) that indicated that RT measures obtained in the task accounted for additional variance in predicting fluid abilities. Our results suggest that Aospan is a reliable and valid indicator of WM capacity that can be applied to a wide array of research domains.
Bayliss, D. M., Jarrold, C., Gunn, D. M., &Baddeley, A. D. (2003). The complexities of complex span: Explaining individual differences in working memory in children and adults.Journal of Experimental Psychology: General,132, 71–92.
Berger, F. R., Gupta, W. B., Berger, R. M., &Skinner, J. (1990). Air Force Officer Qualifying Test (AFOQT) form P: Test Manual (AFHRL-TR-89-56). Brooks Air Force Base, TX: Manpower and Personnel Division, Air Force Human Resources Laboratory.
Bollen, K. A. (1989).Structural equations with latent variables. New York: Wiley.
Case, R., Kurland, M. D., &Goldberg, J. (1982). Operational efficiency and the growth of short-term memory span.Journal of Experimental Child Psychology,33, 386–404.
Conway, A. R. A., Cowan, N., Bunting, M. F., Therriault, D. J., &Minkoff, S. R. B. (2002). A latent variable analysis of working memory capacity, short-term memory capacity, processing speed, and general fluid intelligence.Intelligence,30, 163–183.
Cowan, N., Towse, J. N., Hamilton, Z., Saults, J. S., Elliott, E. M., Lacey, J. F., Moreno, M. V., &Hitch, G. J. (2003). Children’s working-memory processes: A response-timing analysis.Journal of Experimental Psychology: General,132, 113–132.
Daneman, M., &Carpenter, P. A. (1980). Individual differences in working memory and reading.Journal of Verbal Learning & Verbal Behavior,19, 450–466.
De Neys, W., D’Ydewalle, G., Schaeken, W., &Vos, G. (2002). A Dutch, computerized, and group administrable adaptation of the operation span test.Psychologica Belgica,42, 177–190.
Engle, R. W., Cantor, J., &Carullo, J. (1992). Individual differences in working memory and comprehension: A test of four hypotheses.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition,18, 972–992.
Engle, R. W., Nations, J. K., &Cantor, J. (1990). Word knowledge and working memory capacity.Journal of Educational Psychology,82, 799–804.
Engle, R. W., Tuholski, S. W., Laughlin, J. E., &Conway, A. R. A. (1999). Working memory, short-term memory and general fluid intelligence: A latent-variable approach.Journal of Experimental Psychology: General,128, 309–331.
Finn, P. R. (2002). Motivation, working memory, and decision making: A cognitive-motivational theory of personality vulnerability to alcoholism.Behavioral & Cognitive Neuroscience Reviews,1, 183–205.
Kane, M. J., Bleckley, M. K., Conway, A. R. A., &Engle, R. W. (2001). A controlled-attention view of working-memory capacity.Journal of Experimental Psychology: General,130, 169–183.
Kane, M. J., &Engle, R. W. (2003). Working-memory capacity and the control of attention: The contributions of goal neglect, response competition, and task set to Stroop interference.Journal of Experimental Psychology: General,132, 47–70.
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.
Klein, K., &Boals, A. (2001). The relationship of life event stress and working memory capacity.Applied Cognitive Psychology,15, 565–579.
Klein, K., &Fiss, W. H. (1999). The reliability and stability of the Turner and Engle working memory task.Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers,31, 429–432.
Raven, J. C., Raven, J. E., &Court, J. H. (1998).Progressive matrices. Oxford: Oxford Psychologists Press.
Rosen, V. M., Bergeson, J. L., Putnam, K., Harwell, A., &Sunderland, T. (2002). Working memory and apolipoprotein E: What’s the connection?Neuropsychologia,40, 2226–2233.
Schneider, W., Eschman, A., &Zuccolotto, A. (2002). E-Prime Version 1.0 [Computer software]. Pittsburgh: Psychology Software Tools Inc.
Shah, P., &Miyake, A. (1996). The separability of working memory resources for spatial thinking and language processing: An individual differences approach.Journal of Experimental Psychology: General,125, 4–27.
Turner, M. L., &Engle, R. W. (1989). Is working memory capacity task dependent?Journal of Memory & Language,28, 127–154.
Unsworth, N., Heitz, R. P., & Engle, R. W. (in press). Working memory capacity in hot and cold cognition. In R. W. Engle, G. Sedek, U. von Hecker, & D. N. McIntosh (Eds.),Cognitive limitations in aging and psychopathology: Attention, working memory, and executive functions. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Waters, G. S., &Caplan, D. (2003). The reliability and stability of verbal working memory measures.Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers,35, 550–564.
This work was supported by Grant F49620-00-1-131 from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. We are grateful to Michelle Grant, Josh Holt, Melissa Jensen, Jessica Parsons, Tom Redick, Paul Tran, and Liz Weldon for data collection assistance.
Note—This article was accepted by the previous editor, Jonathan Vaughan.
About this article
Cite this article
Unsworth, N., Heitz, R.P., Schrock, J.C. et al. An automated version of the operation span task. Behavior Research Methods 37, 498–505 (2005). https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03192720