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Attention and MemoryAn Integrated Framework$
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Nelson Cowan

Print publication date: 1998

Print ISBN-13: 9780195119107

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195119107.001.0001

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Memory activation and attentional focusing

Memory activation and attentional focusing

Chapter:
(p.77) 3. Memory activation and attentional focusing
Source:
Attention and Memory
Author(s):

Nelson Cowan

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195119107.003.0003

There have been wide-spread disagreements about the nature of short-term memory. What distinguishes it from long-term memory? Is the information in short-term memory forgotten as a function of time (memory decay)? Is it susceptible to a limit in capacity, the number of items that can be held at once? This chapter proposes that there are two mechanisms of short-term memory: the activated portion of long-term memory, and the subset of activated elements that are in the focus of attention. It is suggested that the activated portion has a time limit (as well as being susceptible to interference) whereas the focus of attention has a capacity limit. Some unresolved issues with that approach are discussed, along with the neurophysiology of short-term memory. The commonly-used term “working memory” is conceived as a combination of both short-term memory mechanisms, along with direction from central executive processes.

Keywords:   capacity limit, central executive, interference, long-term memory, memory-decay, short-term memory, time limit, working memory

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