Storage and processing in working memory: Assessing dual task performance and task prioritization across the adult lifespan

Stephen Rhodes, Agnieszka J Jaroslawska, Jason M Doherty, Clement Belletier, Moshe Naveh-Benjamin, Nelson Cowan, Valerie Camos, Pierre Barrouillet, Robert H Logie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


There is a theoretical disagreement in the working memory literature, with some proposing that the storage and processing of information rely on distinct parts of the cognitive system and others who posit that they rely, to some extent, on a shared attentional capacity. This debate is mirrored in the literature on working memory and aging, where there have been mixed findings on the ability of older adults to perform simultaneous storage and processing tasks. We assess the overlap between storage and processing and how this changes with age using a procedure in which both tasks have been carefully adjusted to produce comparable levels of single-task performance across a sample (N = 164) of participants aged 18–81. By manipulating incentives to perform one task over the other, this procedure was also capable of disentangling concurrence costs (single- vs. dual-task performance) from prioritization costs (relative payoffs for storage vs. processing performance) in a theoretically meaningful manner. The study revealed a large general cost to serial letter recall performance associated with concurrent performance of an arithmetic verification processing task, a concurrence cost that increased with age. For the processing task, there was no such general concurrence cost. Rather, there was a prioritization effect in dual-task performance for both tasks, irrespective of age, in which performance levels depended on the relative emphasis assigned to memory versus processing. This prioritization effect was large, albeit with a large residual in performance. The findings place important constraints on both working memory theory and our understanding of how working memory changes across the adult lifespan
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1204-1227
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number7
Early online date19 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019


  • Adult lifespan
  • Processing
  • Storage
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Storage and processing in working memory: Assessing dual task performance and task prioritization across the adult lifespan'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this