Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

When it comes to memory, quality matters more than quantity

Date:
February 4, 2014
Source:
New York University
Summary:
The capacity of our working memory is better explained by the quality of memories we can store than by their number, a team of psychology researchers has concluded.

The capacity of our working memory is better explained by the quality of memories we can store than by their number, a team of psychology researchers has concluded.

Related Articles


Their analysis, which appears in the latest issue of the journal Psychological Review, helps clarify a long-standing debate in psychology about the capacity of our "working memory": Are the limits on the amount of information we can remember for a short period, such as a phone number or a snapshot of a traffic situation, best understood as a cap on the total number of memories we can store or, rather, as a limitation on their quality?

"Our findings show that we don't simply store a set number of items and then recall them near-perfectly," says Weiji Ma, an associate professor in NYU's Center for Neural Science and Department of Psychology, and the study's senior author. "Rather, we try to memorize all relevant objects, but the quality of these recollections is uneven and gets worse as we have to remember more."

Working memory (WM) has a similar function as random access memory (RAM) in computers, but its mechanisms are not nearly as well understood. In recent years, psychology researchers have come to contrasting conclusions on the limits of working memory. Some have posited that there a fixed number of memories we can store in there -- for example, we may be able to store the positions of only four different cars in our working memory at any one time.

However, others have maintained that working memory's storage is not defined by the number of items it can hold; rather, these scholars see its limits as better defined by the quality of memories. For instance, in recalling the colors in a painting, we may remember seeing light blue in the work when, in fact, the actual color was teal. In other words, working memory's bounds are a matter of precision rather than quantity.

In an effort to resolve this debate, Ma and colleagues examined data from 10 previously conducted experiments across six different laboratories, in total consisting of more than 130,000 subject responses. In a typical experiment, subjects were asked to recall one of up to eight colors they had seen a few seconds ago -- a well-established measurement for gauging memory. This allowed the researchers to test different models that explained the capacity of our working memory -- that is, is it a function of quality or quantity?

"This is the first study in this area that uses this much data, and we hope that our data set can serve as a benchmark for future studies," explains Ma.

Their analysis showed that working memory capacity is best explained in terms of the quality of memories. This quality gradually diminished as subjects were asked to recall more and more colors. Contrary to what many textbooks claim, memory performance could not be explained by a fixed number of memories.

Ma does add a caveat, "Our results certainly don't mean that you always remember everything that matters. However, 'remembering everything a little bit' seems much closer to the truth than 'remembering a few things perfectly and others not at all'."

Ma points to how we navigate traffic in illustrating how quality matters in working memory. When driving, we may store the positions of cars and pedestrians, the colors of the street signs, and the distance to the next traffic light. However, quality of some of these memories may be quite high (e.g., the positions of other cars) while for others it may be poor (e.g., the color of the street signs).


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by New York University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Ronald van den Berg, Edward Awh, Wei Ji Ma. Factorial comparison of working memory models.. Psychological Review, 2014; 121 (1): 124 DOI: 10.1037/a0035234

Cite This Page:

New York University. "When it comes to memory, quality matters more than quantity." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 February 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140204101412.htm>.
New York University. (2014, February 4). When it comes to memory, quality matters more than quantity. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140204101412.htm
New York University. "When it comes to memory, quality matters more than quantity." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140204101412.htm (accessed November 20, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Kids React to Lammily, The Realistic Barbie Alternative

Kids React to Lammily, The Realistic Barbie Alternative

Buzz60 (Nov. 19, 2014) Artist Nickolay Lamm's Kickstarter-funded Lammily doll, based on his 'What Would Barbie Look Like as a Real Woman' project, is finally available to buy. Jen Markham explains how the doll's realistic proportions are going over with a test group of second-graders who are used to the impossible measurements of Barbie dolls. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Trans-Fat Foods Now Linked To Poor Memory

Trans-Fat Foods Now Linked To Poor Memory

Newsy (Nov. 19, 2014) A study presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions shows a link between diets high in trans fats and decreased memory recall. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Creating Lifelong Love of Science and Math

Creating Lifelong Love of Science and Math

AP (Nov. 18, 2014) Kelly Mathews is a new mom on a mission to get girls interested in science, technology, engineering and math, and it starts with her own daughter. The Girl Scouts are doing their part, too, by promoting S.T.E.M. through badges and activities. (Nov. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
3D Fun Improves Child Therapy in Poland

3D Fun Improves Child Therapy in Poland

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 17, 2014) Scientists in Poland are helping children with autism and Down's Syndrome better focus on therapeutic exercises by taking them out of their real world environment and into a specially-designed 3D cave in which their imagination can flourish. Jim Drury reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins