How your “working memory” makes sense of the world?- A Review


Dr. Peter Doolittle in his talk titled, How your “working memory” makes sense of the world?

1. What is Working Memory: 

Working memory is your brain’s Post-it note, says Tracy Packiam Alloway, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, Florida. “It makes all the difference to successful learning,” she says.

You can think of working memory as the active part of your memory system. It’s like mental juggling, says H. Lee Swanson, PhD, distinguished professor of education with the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Riverside. “As information comes in, you’re processing it at the same time as you store it,” he says. A child uses this skill when doing math calculations or listening to a story, for example. She has to hold onto the numbers while working with them. Or, she needs to remember the sequence of events and also think of what the story is about, says Swanson. 

2. Working Memory Capacity and Why it’s important:

According to Dr. Doolittle working memory can result in a number of positive effects. He says that people with high working memory capacity tend to be good story tellers, are able to solve and excel at standardized tests, have high levels of writing ability and are typically able to reason at high levels. If you want to find out what your working memory capacity is like, take a look at this quiz now: Brain Games.

The importance of working capacity lies in the fact that Life comes at us very fast and what we need to so extract meaning from this information. Working memory therefore allows us to make sense of the world around us. It allows us to solve problems, think critically, make a conversation and allows us to go to the grocery store and buy milk, cheese and eggs even though we actually wanted to get Redbull and Bacon. A central issue with ‘Working memory’ is  that it’s limited in capacity, focus and duration and therefore we need to use strategy to make the best of it.

Here are a couple of strategies that help us negotiate information:

a) Processing Information: According to Dr. Doolittle we need to process what is happening around us as and when it happens. So not a few minutes later, an hour later or a week later but at the moment it is occurring. This is very relatable because all of us find ourselves in conversation with friends, peers and colleagues during which we constantly question their views, assumptions, opinions and judgments. And unless we do that, we are unable to process what we hear. And interestingly, this aspect holds true for different situations and experiences, we find ourselves in and is not limited to conversations.

 b) Repeat it: The second thing he talks about is how we need to repeat the information we learn and practice it in order to make sense of it. Have you ever been in a position when your teacher discusses a certain concept in class, and you disagree with it? You’re too afraid to raise that point in class, but Google the concept and seek reference from other sources to validate that you were right. Do you then talk about it with your friends to seek legitimacy that you were right. Of course you’ve experienced this. So if you ever wondered if it was normal behavior to go that extra mile to make sense of what you though with respect to someone else’s point of view- it was :).

c) Think Elaboratively and llustratively: We typically take new knowledge and try and relate it to what we already know. A more meaningful way to make sense of new information, according to Mr. Doolittle is to take your existing knowledge and wrap around new knowledge around it to make connections.

d) Imagery: When we read or write something we want to be able to visualize it. This helps us put things into perspective. We need to take advantage of using imagery.

e) Organization and Support We are meaning making machines. We need to structure knowledge and experience in ways that make sense. According to him “all of us started as novices” And therefore, everything we do is an approximation of sophistication. We need to support it. For example, if you are reading about World War II in your history class and are having a hard time remembering what countries were involved, try and visualize it and draw maps. You will find your understanding and ability to remember and retrieve what you learnt more effectively and efficiently. 

Take home message: What we process, we learn. If we don’t process life- We don’t live it. So live life.

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