Critical review of the working memory model

The present review will aim to critically assess the working memory model proposed by Baddeley & Hitch (1974). The multi component working memory model was especially influential preceded by the unitary model proposed by Atkinson and Schifrin (1968). The model is especially proved unique because of its explanation of separate verbal phonological and visuo spatial sketchpad components as salve systems of the executive control (Repovs & Baddeley, 2006). Its application in the domains of neuropsychiatry and neuropsychology has been especially beneficial. However over the years there have been significant psychological developments especially with the introduction of magnetic resonance imaging, emotion and embodied cognition (Jameson, Hinson, & Whitney, 2004). Additions to the working memory model such as sensorimotor memory may clarify its cognitive processes and functions.

The central executive performs various functions it, its precise role, however, is far less understood (Repovs & Baddeley, 2006). Baddeley (2003) argues that it is an attentional system which coordinates activity within the working memory and controls the transmission of information between other parts of the cognitive system as well as the phonological loop and visuo-spatial sketchpad. However, there is not a particular and exact explanation of this central executive system (Andrade, 2001) and this is the weakness of the model (Andrade, 2001). Investigating the exact process of the central executive is crucial as it is fundamentally important for the validity of the working memory model on the whole because it is responsible for many different cognitive functions and the working memory model although its slave systems of phonological loop and visuo spatial sketchpad have been individually explained and investigated but the whole framework still depends upon the central executive. Strength of the central executive is that it offers the explanation with relation to aspects of developmental and adult skills (Andrade, 2001). Baddeley (2003) extends the central executive to the Norman & Shallice model of attentional control and in particular the supervisory articulatory system (Baddeley, 2003 Baddeley, 2002). There is also a need on what actually drives the system (Baddeley, 2000, 2003) which is especially interesting as purely attention may not be the reason but its interaction with somatic markers (Damasio, 1999).

The coactive, emotional and motivational control of working memory is crucial but largely ignored (Damasio, 1999 Andrade, 2001 Damasio, 1996). The working memory model proposed by Baddeley and Hitch (1974) does not account for the role of emotion and cognition and information processing (Damasio, 1999 Jameson et al, 2004). Research in healthy individuals has shown that emotional stimuli attract more attention than neutral stimuli and can facilitate the processing of affective stimuli ( Andrade, 2001 Damasio, 1999)Damage to the amygdala can impair this facilitation process, indicating that the amygdala may play a key role in enhancing attention to emotional stimuli (Becerril & Barch, 2010) . Moreover, it has been investigated and seen that the amygdala responds to emotionally significant stimuli very early in information processing (Becerril & Barch, 2010). These are all however established as a result of neuropsychological development and with the introduction of functional magnetic resonance imaging (Damasio, 1999). However although research has seen the affects of emotion and working memory especially with regards to capturing attention, processing information and the amygdala & hippocampus interaction, the more newer and contemporary research such as real contact with the world or embodied cognition and enactive representation argues the direct emotional, physical sensory contact with the world and that it is what directs and influences cognitive working memory functions and memory, not just emotion located in the part of the brain but its contact and signal with the entire body (Damasio, 1999 O’Regan & Noë, 2001). This will be argued as a missing component of the both the original working memory and also the revised working memory model (Baddeley, 2000). The working memory model preceded the Atkinson & Schifrin (1964) model of memory that was largely based on theoretical none empirical work. In response to their model Baddeley and Hitch empirically supported their own argument that the short term memory is not a unitary process.

There is also evidence which supports the supports the hypothesis that verbal short term memory comprises and consists of a temporary storage system, the phonological store, an active rehearsal system, and articulatory control process and these consist of phonological similarity effect, the word length effect, articulatory suppression, and also irrelevant speech (Jones, Hughes, Macken, 2006 Andrade, 2001 Jones, Macken, Nicholls, A P 2004). Separate verbal (phonological) and visuo spatial system was empirically established after experiments confirmed that concurrent articulation impaired digit span but not spatial span (Baddeley, 2003 Andrade, 2001). However, recent studies of word length effect failed to replicate Baddeley (1975) found that span for long words is slower than for short words (Avon & Masterson 2000 in Andrade, 2001) which therefore challenge the empirical basis of the phonological loop. Jones et al (2004) argues that the phonological similarity effect originates in the phonological store which is abstracted away from articulatory and acoustic representations and therefore it needs to account for the acoustic similarity effect by incorporating lower representational levels (Jones et al, 2004). The working memory viewed cognition and perceptual processes as being distinct from those responsible for short term retention of information (Jones, et al 2006 Jones, et al 2004). Jones et al (2004) and Jones et al (2004) argue that there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that many effects traditionally classed as short term memory phenomena can be better and more parsimoniously understood by recourse to more peripheral processes of auditory perceptual organisation and gestural skills that are co opted opportunistically to meet the demands of the short term memory task. Jones (2006) investigation involves not only perceptual gestural view of short term memory but also acknowledges the view of embodied cognition, perception and action in short term memory which is absent if not under acknowledged in the working memory proposes by Baddeley and Hitch (1974). Wilson and Fox (2007) and also studied hand gestures and serial recall and found correlational results with perceptual gestural and embodied cognition perspectives. The working memory model by Baddeley and Hitch (1974) does not incorporate the motor memory system linking information processing to action or enactive representation to working memory although there is over emphasis cognitive processes. Motor memory and its implication with embodied cognition and enactive representation as well as emotion has been investigated and found interesting results (Jameson, 2004). For example Roth & Valey (2003) showed that the presentation of single letters activates pre motor areas involved in writing even though individuals had no intention to write (Longcamp, Anton, Roth & Velay, 2003 Jones, 2004)

It is important to consider from Atkinson & Schifrin (1964) Model that although the working memory model as proposed by Baddeley & Hitch (1974) does not contain separate components for sensory information (Andrade, 2001) the experiments that are performed nevertheless do not ignore this aspect as it can be seen through auditory and visual (sensory) processing (Baddeley, 2003). As a result of this strength it has gained prominence and especially with the detailed and experimental study of the phonological system, in the field of language acquisition, second language acquisition (Baddeley, Gathercole & Papagno, 1998) and processing of imagery as well as working memory development in children (Andrade, 2001). Moreover, it has been investigated that the language acquisition is the essential function of the phonological loop (Baddeley et al, 1998 Andrade, 2001). The multi component model can be applied to patients with psychological and neuropsychological deficits in one particular area of the cognition such as attention or verbal task in the case when visuo spatial task remains normal and functional for this reason it has gained prominence in the field of neuropsychiatry (Andrade, 2001). The central executive with this respect has proven to be extremely useful in understanding neurological deficits (Andrade, 2001). These researchers suggest that people with Alzheimer’s disease have central executive deficit and these deficits can explain their poor verbal and visuo spatial span (Andrade, 2001). These studies do reveal important findings and explain the function of central executive to some extent. Although there are neuro images suggesting specifying regions for the working memory components supporting the model however they may be fractionalised and not localised (Andrade, 2001). Further researchers who critically assess the phonological system also argue that short term retention is cue driven and that neither rehearsal nor decay is likely to explain short term memory and forgetting (Nairne, 2002).

There have extensive studies in relation to the phonological store but visuo spatial sketch has been under investigated and therefore although the original Baddeley & Hitch model provides far less empirical support for the visuo spatial sketchpad the introduction of episodic buffer in (2000) has provided it with some support. A problem with the working memory model, as argued by Andrade (2001) is that it assumes that visual imagery and visuo spatial information is stored in one place and processed dependently and together, however, is this was the case the damage to the sketchpad via brain injury should result in both imagery and visuo spatial working memory becoming impaired, neuropsychological literature however, indicates (in Andrade, 2001) apparent disassociation between imagery process and visuo spatial short term memory in head injured patients. Studies using visual interference argue the need fractionate the visual spatial sketch pad in to two components, visual and spatial (Chieffi, Allport & Woddin, 1999). Visuo spatial is also not disembodied and is related to enactive representation researchers found that use of motor or action related representations in visuo spatial working memory (Chieffi et al, 1999).

Following the work performed by Jones (2004) and Damasio (1999) there has been investigations of working memory light of embodied cognition and physical contact with the world than a classical computational and disembodied approach (Damasio, 1999, Jameson, 2001) such as the perceptual gestural accounts and the somatic marker hypothesis proposed by Jones (2004) and Damasio (1999). Working memory model provide an understanding of language manipulation processing, working memory it is still distant from ‘motor representation’ and motor control that may play role in language task and support cognition and information processing (Yang, Gallo & Beilock 2009). The processing of words needs not be investigated in isolation but in context of motor and movement (Yang et al, 2009). Neuroimaging has established that motor related cortical activity occurs where subjects judge the meaning of the words referring manipuble objects thereby establishing a link between language, cognition, emotion and embodiment (Damasio, 1999 Duncan & Barrett, 2007). The link between body posture, cognition and emotion has also investigated by a number of researchers and relates well to Damasio’s seminal of the somatic marker hypothesis and that both unconscious and conscious are involved in information processing, decision making and working memory since both the somatic markers and also the working memory are involved with the prefrontal cortex and ventromedial prefrontal cortex there developments can be made to understand the central executive and cognitive processing including the question of what motivates the cognitive processing, through Damasio’s somatic marker hypothesis (Damasio, 1999 Toplak, Soge, Benoit, West, Stanovich, 2010). Damasio (1999) studied the case of Cage who suffered ventromedial prefrontal cortex damage and was unable to make decisions; Damasio argued that there were impaired somatic signals (Damasio, 1999). The somatic marker hypothesis as connected and related to the functions of working memory are also explained by Damasio (1999), who argues that ventral regions of pre frontal cortex support decision making based on somatic markers whereas as dorsal regions of the pre frontal cortex support working memory functions (Jameson, 2004 Toplak et al 2010 Damasio, 1996).

In light of contemporary research of embodied cognition and emotion proposed by psychologists such as Damasio (1999) and Jones (2004) and reviewing the working memory model, the experiments which Baddeley and Hitch (1974) performed and even today in memory and cognition experiments are very much disembodied (Damasio, 1999) without real contact with the world and environment (enactive and embodied cognition) (McGann, 2008 Torrance, 2005 ) , experiments performed in strict control conditions and therefore working memory may not yield true results due to the artificial setting. In experimenting and establishing working memory process there needs to be naturalistic experiments also for ecological validity and reliability, as well as to understand the embodied cognition and gestural perceptual view of short term memory and enactive representation (McGann, 2008 Stocco, Fum & Zalla 2005 Torrance, 2005) including emotion which may motivate the entire process of working memory as what actually motivates the working memory process is of question (Baddeley, 2002). Understanding emotion, somatic marker hypothesis, cognition, emotion and embodiment as echoed by psychologists such as Damasio could answer the ambiguities of the working memory model such as the its motivation and central executive. The participants could be tested in two settings to see the difference in working memory. In control condition participant could complete a puzzle with simple pen and paper without physical interaction with the puzzle and in the experimental condition participants could solve a puzzle using with their hands in a naturalistic setting (gestural) and they would be using their physical body and movements (motor skills) as oppose to pure cognitive task. Competitiveness can be manipulated as an independent variable for emotion with two groups competing against each other. This will be a cognitive and a decision making task. Skin conductor can be used to assess the physiological responses as well as questionnaires about their how they felt and thought and how their physical involvement helped them solve the problem. Moreover, since motor control can support episodic memory within and between long term and short term memory words of objects such as apple that can physically grasped can be used to see phonological processing and to see if activation in the motor regions of the brain facilitate the information processing, rehearsal and retention in short term and long term memory this is in line with embodied cognition, enactive representation and organism – object interaction (Yang et al, 2009 Torrance, 2005 Longcamp et al, 2003). This particular research has not been performed with bilinguals; the vast majority of research exists around language and emotion. It would be interesting to see if manipulated or graspable object words such as apple in both languages and how those words will be processed in working memory and how sensory motor grasping related regions in the brain facilitate the processing in relation to the rehearsal process in the working memory.

In conclusion, both subjective and objective measures can be utilised to assess the working memory process and perhaps to include motor memory and emotion components within the working memory model by Baddeley and Hitch (1974). Nonetheless working memory model has inspired cognitive psychology that memory is not a merely storage but an interactional processing system.

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