JOURNAL ARTICLE

Accessing information in working memory: can the focus of attention grasp two elements at the same time?

Klaus Oberauer, Svetlana Bialkova
Journal of Experimental Psychology. General 2009, 138 (1): 64-87
19203170
Processing information in working memory requires selective access to a subset of working-memory contents by a focus of attention. Complex cognition often requires joint access to 2 items in working memory. How does the focus select 2 items? Two experiments with an arithmetic task and 1 with a spatial task investigate time demands for successive operations that involve 2 digits or 2 spatial positions, respectively. When both items used in an operation have been used in the preceding operation, latencies are shortened. No such repetition benefit (arithmetic) or a much smaller benefit (spatial) was found when only 1 item was repeated. The results rule out serial access to the 2 items, parallel access by expanding the focus, and parallel access by splitting the focus. They support the notion that 2 items are accessed by chunking them, so that they fit a focus limited to 1 chunk. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2009 APA, all rights reserved).

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