7.7 Baddeley’s Model of Working Memory
How do we remember the color of the shirt a stranger who passed us by was wearing? Or the model of the car in front of us as we’re driving? These types of memories, which are fleeting and don’t last very long, are known as short-term memories.
Psychologists have long been interested in how memory works – why we remember some things and not others, for example– and the British psychologist Alan Baddeley is no exception.
Baddeley is known particularly for his work on short-term memory, or these memories we make that quickly fade. In this lesson, we’ll go over the model Baddeley came up with to explain how we store and process short-term memories or working memories. But first, we should talk about what we mean by ‘working memory’.
What Is Working Memory?
Working memory is basically a memory that we’re currently forming, but that won’t last very long. So, as you’re reading these sentences, you’re forming a working memory of them but you won’t remember them word-for-word in the long term.
Working memory is similar to short-term memory, which is the part of our memory that stores a limited number of items, which are really only accessible to us for about a minute or less.
Baddeley was interested in figuring out how all of these quick memories are processed so he came up with a model to explain it. Let’s talk about that in more detail now.
Baddeley’s Model of Working Memory
Baddeley’s model argues that working memory is like a multi-part system, and each system is responsible for a different function. Each part is only able to processes so much and the components of this system, according to Baddeley, function more or less independently of one another. The model has four major components that we’ll discuss now.
The first piece of the model is known as the phonological loop. This is the part of the system that processes spoken language, or information we get from speech. This is also how we process things like arithmetic problems, new vocabulary words, or an address we see written down.
Basically, the phonological loop is all about written and spoken information. The word ‘phonology’ refers to the branch of linguistics that deals with how words and sounds are organized in language, so that’s one way to remember what this component does.
Now, the phonological loop actually has two parts. It consists of:
- thephonological store, which is a fancy term for your inner ear. This is the part that stores information based on speech for one or two seconds. When someone tells you something, you are perceiving it with the phonological store.
- the articulatory control process is a fancy way of saying inner voice. Basically, this component interprets and rehearses the information from the phonological store. When you say something, the articulatory control process is producing the words.
The second piece of the system is the visuospatial sketchpad, which you might have already figured out is all about visual and spatial information! So, this is basically how we store objects and images.
If you’re standing in your living room and looking at a painting, the visuospatial sketchpad is responsible for your ability to store the image of the painting as well as its placement on the wall. Another way to think about this is as our inner eye.
The third piece of this model is really important. It’s called the central executive and it’s responsible for coordinating all of the other pieces of the system. Think of it as the CEO of the system. The central executive coordinates things like switching between memories or tasks and it is thought to be responsible for such things as daydreaming or stopping certain memories.
Finally, we have the episodic buffer. Originally, this was not part of Baddeley’s model. But he added it as a kind of a backup store. You might think of this as akin to your computer’s external hard drive. You have backup on your computer, but the hard drive is another way of making sure your information is secure. The episodic buffer is like a liaison between short-term and long-term memory, and can communicate with both.
Alan Baddeley is a British psychologist who has devoted much of his career to studying memory. He is perhaps most well-known for his theory of working memory, which is a four-part system that explains how we store and process information.
- phonological loop – processes spoken language. The phonological loop consists of the phonological store (inner ear), which perceives sound, and the articulatory control process (inner voice) which rehearses and produces sound.
- visuospatial sketchpad – processes visual and spatial information.
- central executive – controls the whole system.
- episodic buffer – a ‘system backup that can communicate with long-term and short-term memory.