Nav: Home

Working memory is structured hierarchically

July 25, 2019

Researchers in cognitive psychology at HSE University have experimentally demonstrated that the colors and orientations of objects are stored and processed independently in working memory. However, it is easier for a person to remember these features when they belong to a single object: for example, it is easier for a person to remember and understand one graph on which both parameters are indicated (with a color and a line shape, for example), than two different graphs in which the two parameters are shown separately.

The results of the experiment were published in Acta Psychologica journal. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0001691818305511

Studies of working memory have been conducted since the last century. Working memory allows us to store and process information for a short period of time. A study by Steven Luck and Edward Vogel showed that it is possible to retain information about only 4 colors or orientations in visual working memory at one time, and that this information is stored in a bound way, i.e., changes in the quantity and complexity of objects' features do not affect the storage capacity of visual working memory. However, subsequent studies have shown that working memory can store features independently of each other.

At HSE University, a team comprised of Yuri Markovhttps://www.hse.ru/en/staff/ymarkov, Natalia Tiurinahttps://www.hse.ru/en/staff/ntyurina and Igor Utochkinhttps://www.hse.ru/en/staff/utochkin, studies the processes of visual perception at HSE's Laboratory for Cognitive Researchhttps://cogres.hse.ru/en/.

'In this study, we wanted to learn how information is stored in working memory, in particular, whether there are separate "shelves" for storing color and information about the orientation of an object. We wanted to see how this storage manifests itself, firstly, when the color and orientation belong to one object, and secondly, when they belong to different objects,' said Yury Markov, a research assistant at the Laboratory for Cognitive Research at HSE.

The team conducted three experiments to study this problem. Participants were asked to memorize and then recall the color and orientation of objects. In the first experiment, the color and orientation were features of a single object (e.g., a colored triangle); in the second experiment, these features pertained to different objects (e.g., a colored circle and a white triangle); and in the third experiment, the features pertained to different objects, but they were superimposed onto one another (e.g., a colored circle over a white triangle).

In all three experiments, participants were offered various sets of objects: for example, objects with different colors and orientations, those with the same color and different orientations, those with different colors and the same orientation, or those with the same color and the same orientation. The results showed that when objects shared one of the features, it did not help subjects memorize another feature. This suggests that features are stored independently in working memory.

However, the researchers observed a decrease in precision when subjects were asked to recall the colors of circles and the orientation of triangles as opposed to recalling both features of a single object.

'These results suggest that working memory is most likely structured hierarchically: objects are stored at one level, while their features are stored at a different level. This makes memorizing information pertaining to a single object easier,' Yury Markov noted.

According to Markov, one of the fields in which these results could be used is design and usability. As such, developers of online retail sites are advised to present information in one unit (in other words, rather than placing an icon near a product about a discount along with a 'Buy' button, provide a 'Buy' button, but in a different color). Another recommendation would be to use fewer navigation tools (because even if a person can orient themselves quickly by a single product feature, such as color, this does not reduce the difficulty in orienting oneself by another attribute, such as the size of certain site elements).
-end-


National Research University Higher School of Economics

Related Working Memory Articles:

Taking photos of experiences boosts visual memory, impairs auditory memory
A quick glance at any social media platform will tell you that people love taking photos of their experiences -- whether they're lying on the beach, touring a museum, or just waiting in line at the grocery store.
Rosemary aroma can aid children's working memory
Exposure to the aroma of rosemary essential oil can significantly enhance working memory in children.
Buzzing the brain with electricity can boost working memory
Scientists have uncovered a method for improving short-term working memory, by stimulating the brain with electricity to synchronize brain waves.
Adolescents with weak working memory and progressive drug use at risk for later addictions
Drug use in adolescence is often linked to later substance-abuse problems, but a new study suggests that a key risk factor is a combination of weak working memory and difficulties with impulse control.
Researchers' discovery of new verbal working memory architecture has implications for AI
The neural structure we use to store and process information in verbal working memory is more complex than previously understood, finds a new study by researchers at New York University.
More GABA in one brain region linked to better working memory, Stanford scientist says
The amount of a particular chemical in a particular part of your brain predicts your ability to simultaneously hang onto several bits of information in your working memory, a Stanford University School of Medicine scientist and his University of California-Davis collaborators have learned.
Working full time not enough to lift thousands of Florida's working parents out of poverty
Even after working 40 or more hours a week, thousands of Florida parents would need to earn nearly double the state's current hourly minimum wage in order to break even.
Higher-income students have an edge when it comes to working memory
University of Toronto and MIT researchers have discovered important differences between lower and higher-income children in their ability to use working memory, a key brain function responsible for everything from remembering a phone number to doing math in your head.
Study reveals how interaction between neural networks changes during working memory
Investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital have found that dopamine signaling within the cerebral cortex can predict changes in the extent of communication between key brain networks during working memory.
Survival of the hardest working
An engineering team at Washington University in St. Louis developed a cellular kill switch, a sensor that rewards hard working cells and eliminates their lazy counterparts.

Related Working Memory Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...