Working memory has a capacity limit. This is especially relevant for complex tasks and is therefore related to reasoning ability. A strong relationship between working-memory capacity and reasoning has been found in several studies1 and research indicates working memory as one of the best predictors of intelligence2.
Working memory is associated with 3 key functions: the simultaneous storage and processing of information, supervision (monitoring of mental operations, controlling their efficiency, and choosing the right resources for a task), and coordination (integration of information from different content domains)3.
This test assesses the element of the WM referring to the ability to control attention in order to either maintain relevant information or to disengage from irrelevant information4.
This Icon Sequence Test contains 10 questions in total. At the beginning of each question, you see a sequence of icons in quick succession. Then you will be shown a set of 8 icons and you must select the ones you just saw.
Out of the 8 options, 3 to 5 will be correct. You get 1 point for each correct selection, and -1 for wrong selections.
This test is designed as an entertaining and educational tool. The results do not constitute a psychological or psychiatric evaluation of any kind and may not offer an accurate portrait of the mental fitness of the test taker. We do not guarantee the accuracy of the results and these should not be used as an indicator of the capacities of the individual for a specific purpose.
Responses may be recorded and used for research purposes or to be otherwise distributed. All responses are recorded anonymously.
Visual memory tests are designed to assess visual short-term memory as well as working memory. The two types of memories are frequently referred to as synonyms, but some researchers contest this, defending instead that they are different but largely overlap.
Short-term memory, as the name suggests, refers to the storage of information and data by the brain for mere seconds. The working memory, on the other hand, can last a few minutes and it stores information expected to be necessary only for a short period of time.
For example, a person is scrolling through social media when they see an ad for a new app, which is completely irrelevant to them. However, moments later, when asked about it, they might be unsure about whether they even saw the advertisement and admit that they cannot remember what the app was for. This would be a short-term memory. The brain acknowledged that information but quickly erased it when it deemed it unnecessary.
Now let us say someone is waiting for a ride and are shown a picture of the car they should be expecting. They can retain visual details of the vehicle for as long as they are surveying the streets looking for it. If the car takes too long, they might need to take a new peek at the picture to refresh their memory. This memory would be a working one. The information kept in storage is useful only for that moment and can be erased once the vehicle arrives.
This Icon Sequence Memory Test is intended to assess the overlap between short-term and working memory. The test-takers will see a sequence of icons that they must memorize to then be able to recall and indicate which ones they saw. The memory of the icons will only be useful for the time needed to complete the question. At each new question, a new sequence is displayed with the number of icons increasing as well.
Through this process, the Icon Sequence Memory Test manages to evaluate the visual working memory of the test-takers, both in terms of the span of time they can retain information and of storage capacity.
Working memory can be improved not in terms of storage space but of the quality of the memories retained. In this sense, it is possible to train your brain to focus solely on the details that are the most useful, while ignoring those irrelevant. This, in turn, would free more space to retain more relevant information, even if the storage capacity remains the same.
Curiously, the training of the visual working memory is linked to activities that many would often consider fun. For example, word search puzzles are a good training ground as the players need to focus solely on the word they are looking for and learn to ignore the irrelevant letters on the grid.
Another popular family game that helps to improve this type of memory is the “forbidden word”. While describing the forbidden word, the players need to focus on the most distinct and unique details that separate it from the rest. The team members, on the other hand, need to aggregate all the information to progressively build a mental image of the word. To put it simply, both teammates need to reduce the visual image to its unique features. In practice, this means that they are increasing the quality of their working memory, as they focus on the essentials and ignore the superficial.
Using rhymes, mnemonic devices, or trying to describe any image out loud are also good training methods.
1 P.C Kyllonen (1994). Aptitude testing inspired by information processing: a test of the four-sources model. Journal of General Psychology, 120 (1994), pp. 375-405; A.F Fry, S Hale (1996). Processing speed, working-memory, and fluid intelligence: evidence for a developmental cascade. Psychological Science, 7 (1996), pp. 237-241; R.W Engle, S.W Tuholski, J.E Laughlin, A.R.A Conway (1999). Working-memory, short-term memory and general fluid intelligence: a latent variable approach. Journal of Experimental Psychology, General, 128 (1999), pp. 309-331.
2 Süß, M., Oberauer, K., Wittmann, W., Wilhelm, O. & Schulze, R. (2002). Working-memory capacity explains reasoning ability—and a little bit more. Intelligence. 30(3), 261-288. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0160-2896(01)00100-3
3 Süß et al, 2002
4 Engle, R. (2018). Working Memory and Executive Attention: A Revisit. Perspectives on Psychological Science. 13(2) 190 –193
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