Trait and State Differences in Working Memory Capacity

  • Małgorzata Ilkowska
  • Randall W. Engle
Part of the The Springer Series on Human Exceptionality book series (SSHE)


Everyday, we use the limited resources of working memory (WM) across situations. For example, we use them as we drive to work attempting to create and maintain a list of tasks and meetings for the day. In this situation, imagine that an unexpected phone call informs us that two meetings have been rescheduled: a first one for a different time today and a second one for tomorrow. After receiving this message, we attempt to update our newly created task list within WM to incorporate the new meeting times. At the same time, we resist interference from the new information we have received from the recent phone call and from other thoughts that this call has brought to mind. Bear in mind that all this happens while we are driving a car, a task that is entirely different from creating, maintaining, and updating our schedule for the day. Some of us manage these tasks simultaneously without much effort, whereas some of us cannot perform this sequence successfully, forgetting half of today’s tasks or making the wrong turn. To complicate this picture, individual differences in managing information in WM partly stem from temporary states of mind that influence a successful management of the task at hand. Let us imagine that the driver had to prepare a talk for one of today’s meetings and spent the whole night preparing. In addition, she might have had an argument with her spouse in the morning. Thus, she might have experienced sleep deprivation, stress, anxiety, and fatigue, which are additional factors that often worsen our ability to utilize WM.


Sleep Deprivation Work Memory Work Memory Capacity Work Memory Task Proactive Interference 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PsychologyGeorgia Institute of TechnologyAtlantaUSA

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