Working memory in action: remembering and following instructions

Richard J. Allen, Amanda H. Waterman, Tian-xiao Yang, Agnieszka J. Graham

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

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Working memory as a field of research has long been characterised by productive development at both the theoretical and practical levels. The multicomponent approach developed by Alan Baddeley and colleagues continues to be a driving force in both these regards. One recent example of this is the question of how instructions and actions might be encoded and temporarily retained in working memory. This is an important real-world ability that also offers complex challenges for theoretical interpretation. Major strides have previously been made in understanding how action might impact on long-term memory, but this had remained a relatively underexplored topic in the context of working memory. Motivated in part by the observation that children with poor working memory seem to struggle with classroom instruction, the last 15 years has seen the development of a new literature on working memory for action and instruction exploring the possible cognitive mechanisms underpinning this ability and how it might change across task contexts and populations. This work has started to map out some of the factors that determine successful recall and implementation of instruction sequences. Among a range of findings, it is emerging that incorporating action either through anticipated, observed, enacted, or imagined performance can substantially increase the likelihood of successful task completion. Such outcomes have been observed in healthy young adults and, with certain important constraints, in individuals with relatively reduced working memory capacity (e.g., typical children and older adults, and clinical populations such as children with ADHD and older adults with dementia). This chapter reviews the current state of play, considers theoretical interpretation and practical application, and suggests where this emerging field of research might go next.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMemory in science for society: there is nothing as practical as a good theory
EditorsRobert H. Logie, Zhisheng (Edward) Wen, Susan E. Gathercole, Nelson Cowan, Randall W. Engle
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780192665584
ISBN (Print)9780192849069
Publication statusPublished - 06 Apr 2023


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