A lot of parents and teachers know that problem: The child is inattentive to task instructions or does not show the needed patience in order to solve a complex problem. Over time, this might frustrate parents as well as teachers who sometimes try to find explanations for these behaviours and maybe even assume that the child is “lazy” or just wants to get attention by not following instructions. However, the reason for such kind of limitations is often not intentional but rather due to a low working memory capacity – which children are often not able to compensate for without any specific training. Knowing that some potential working memory trainings for these children already exist, the question emerges whether and why exactly it would make sense to offer these to the general public in the future. Moreover, are there possible alternatives to help these children to keep up with their classmates having a normal working memory capacity?
In order to understand how the capacity of working memory might be improved it is necessary first to define what is meant by working memory. According to the definition by Baddeley and Hitch (1976) working memory is a limited capacity system that actively holds information in mind in which these can be manipulated. It consists of four subsystems: a phonological loop, a visuospatial sketchpad, an episodic buffer and a central executive. The phonological loop has two components: the phonological store in which sounds are stored; and the articulatory control process which automatically refreshes these sounds in a 2-second cycle (Revlin, 2012). Because of this 2-second limitation the following rule applies: the more information to process, the more will be lost from working memory.
The visuospatial sketchpad is compounded of the visual cache and inner scribe. The former stores visual information such as forms and colours whereas the latter refreshes these information and additionally stores spatial relationships that are associated with body movements.
A further component of the working memory is the so called episodic buffer. This acts as an integrative system which assembles the information entered in the phonological loop and visuospatial cache with long-term memory into a coherent sequence.
The fourth subsystem is the central executive which coordinates the activities of the other three components of working memory and which is also connected to long-term memory via the episodic buffer.
In order to make these systems more concrete, here a daily, simplistic, example: During a conversation in a disco the central executive helps us to attend and concentrate on what the other is talking which is why we are able to understand it despite the loud music in the background (cocktail party effect). Simultaneously, the phonological loop is activated to hear the spoken language whereas the visuospatial cache processes visual perceptions which are necessary, for example, in order to recognize friends from a distance. Without...