Working memory in chess

Abstract

Three experiments investigated the role of working memory in various aspects of thinking in chess. Experiment 1 examined the immediate memory for briefly presented chess positions from master games in players from a wide range of abilities, following the imposition of various secondary tasks designed to block separate components of working memory. Suppression of the articulatory loop (by preventing subvocal rehearsal) had no effect on measures of recall, whereas blocking the visuospatial sketchpad (by manipulation of a keypad) and blocking the central executive (by random letter generation) had equivalent disruptive effects, in comparison with a control condition. Experiment 2 investigated the effects of similar secondary tasks on the solution (i.e., move selection) of tactical chess positions, and a similar pattern was found, except that blocking the central executive was much more disruptive than in Experiment 1. Experiment 3 compared performance on two types of primary task, one concerned with solving chess positions as in Experiment 2, and the other a sentence-rearrangement task. The secondary tasks in each case were both designed to block the central executive, but one was verbal (vocal generation of random numbers), while the other was spatial in nature (random generation of keypresses). Performance of the spatial secondary task was affected to a greater extent by the chess primary task than by the verbal primary task, whereas there were no differential effects on these secondary tasks by the verbal primary task. In none of the three experiments were there any differential effects between weak and strong players. These results are interpreted in the context of the workingmemory model and previous theories of the nature of cognition in chess.

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Correspondence to T. W. Robbins.

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Robbins, T.W., Anderson, E.J., Barker, D.R. et al. Working memory in chess. Memory & Cognition 24, 83–93 (1996). https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03197274

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Keywords

  • Primary Task
  • Secondary Task
  • Central Executive
  • Chess Player
  • Strong Player