What Is the Connection between Working Memory and Attention?

B. Miller

Researchers are still working to determine the specific connection between working memory and attention, but there certainly is one. In general, a better working memory appears to coincide with a more focused, longer attention span, allowing individuals better concentration on the task at hand. Working memory refers to the information that is held at the forefront of the mind, while the individual is actively engaged in a given activity. If someone says a phone number aloud, for example, and an individual repeats it silently to him or herself before finding a piece of paper to write it down, he or she is using working memory.

A better working memory appears to coincide with a longer attention span.
A better working memory appears to coincide with a longer attention span.

This ability to really focus the mind without allowing it to wander is the most common example of working memory. An inability to do this may be associated with attention deficit disorder (ADD), or attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD). This is where one connection between working memory and attention may be found. Individuals who have a hard time remembering what they are doing or focusing on the task at hand may find that they are easily distracted, and easily lose their attention. Of course, plenty of people have trouble with working memory and attention and do not suffer from ADD or ADHD.

Working memory is a type of very short-term memory that may be quickly accessed when needed. It allows someone working on a complex task to quickly run through what he or she already knows about the topic, and apply it as needed. It is also essential for learning new skills. People who struggle with working memory and attention will find it difficult to keep track of what they are doing or the information they are learning, which can make these tasks quite difficult. Fortunately, there are some things that can be done to improve working memory and attention.

There are many specific brain exercises that target working memory and attention, and attempt to help people become more focused and engaged in the task at hand without easy distraction. Many of these are presented as basic games, though they can be very effective; for instance, a game in which an individual flips cards over to see images underneath, and then must remember which card contained which image when its match is shown, is quite common. Another method that is often used to improve working memory and attention is meditation, since this allows the individual to practice maintaining focus and gently bringing the mind back when it wanders.

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