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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00401

Working Memory from the Psychological and Neurosciences Perspectives: A Review

  • 1Department of Neurosciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Malaysia
  • 2Center for Neuroscience Services and Research, University of Science, Malaysia, Malaysia

Since the concept of working memory was introduced over 50 years ago, different schools of thought have offered different definitions for working memory based on the various cognitive domains that it encompasses. The general consensus regarding working memory supports the idea that working memory is extensively involved in goal-directed behaviors in which information must be retained and manipulated to ensure successful task execution. Before the emergence of other competing models, the concept of working memory was described by the multicomponent working memory model proposed by Baddeley and Hitch. In the present article, the authors provide an overview of several working memory-relevant studies in order to harmonize the findings of working memory from the neurosciences and psychological standpoints, especially after citing evidence from past studies of healthy, aging, diseased, and/or lesioned brains. In particular, the theoretical framework behind working memory, in which the related domains that are considered to play a part in different frameworks (such as memory’s capacity limit and temporary storage) are presented and discussed. From the neuroscience perspective, it has been established that working memory activates the fronto-parietal brain regions, including the prefrontal, cingulate, and parietal cortices. Recent studies have subsequently implicated the roles of subcortical regions (such as the midbrain and cerebellum) in working memory. Aging also appears to have modulatory effects on working memory; age interactions with emotion, caffeine and hormones appear to affect working memory performances at the neurobiological level. Moreover, working memory deficits are apparent in older individuals, who are susceptible to cognitive deterioration. Another younger population with working memory impairment consists of those with mental, developmental, and/or neurological disorders such as major depressive disorder and others. A less coherent and organized neural pattern has been consistently reported in these disadvantaged groups. Working memory of patients with traumatic brain injury was similarly affected and shown to have unusual neural activity (hyper- or hypoactivation) as a general observation. Decoding the underlying neural mechanisms of working memory helps support the current theoretical understandings concerning working memory, and at the same time provides insights into rehabilitation programs that target working memory impairments from neurophysiological or psychological aspects.

Keywords: working memory, Cognition, Central executive, Prefrontal Cortex, phonological loop, visuospatial sketchpad

Received: 24 Nov 2017; Accepted: 09 Mar 2018.

Edited by:

Gesualdo M. Zucco, Università degli Studi di Padova, Italy

Reviewed by:

Emily M. Elliott, Louisiana State University, United States
Erika Borella, Università degli Studi di Padova, Italy  

Copyright: © 2018 Chai, Abd Hamid and Abdullah. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Aini Ismafairus Abd Hamid, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Department of Neurosciences, Health Campus, Kota Bharu, Malaysia,