Foundations Of Cognitive Science

Working Memory

Working memory, the more contemporary term for short-term or primary memory, is conceptualized as an active system for temporarily storing and manipulating information needed in the execution of complex cognitive tasks (e.g., learning, reasoning, and comprehension). There are two types of components: storage and central executive functions (see Baddeley, 1986 for a review). The two storage systems within the model (the articulatory loop [AL] and the visuospatial sketchpad or scratchpad [VSSP] are seen as relatively passive slave systems primarily responsible for the temporary storage of verbal and visual information (respectively).

The most important, and least understood, aspect of working memory is the central executive, which is conceptualized as very active and responsible for the selection, initiation, and termination of processing routines (e.g., encoding, storing, and retrieving).

Modern studies of working memory have attempted to link it to particular areas of the brain (Goldman-Rakic, 1992), as well as to develop computational models of this memory's function (Burgess & Hitch, 2005).


  1. Baddeley, A. (1986). Working memory. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  2. Burgess, N., & Hitch, G. (2005). Computational models of working memory: putting long-term memory into context. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 9(11), 535-541.
  3. Goldman-Rakic, P. S. (1992). Working memory and the mind. Scientific American, 267, 110-117.

(Revised February 2010)