When it comes to your memory, there are things that you remember from the very early years of your life and others that happened to you recently. The things that happened more recently are usually referred to as being stored in your short-term memory, but the correct way to label this is your ‘working memory’.
The working memory is where we keep anything that happened recently and it’s limited in the amount of information it can hold as well as how long it can hold it. Some might have a better working memory than others, and if yours isn’t up to scratch then you’ll definitely notice it.
However, there are some things you can do to improve your working memory if you feel it’s not performing at its best. First, we’re going to learn more about this part of the brain, what it’s capable of, the things that it does for you, and why it’s commonly referred to as “the post-it” of the brain.
Studies into the brain and its different areas are always making new discoveries. It’s believed that the main part of the brain involved with your working memory is the central executive region of your prefrontal cortex.
This part of the brain not only stores things for short-term use, but it is part of your processing function. However, it also relies on other parts of the brain to retrieve information and will sometimes call on these areas. They work together to gather information, but the prefrontal cortex is by far the most important for short-term or working memory.
There are a few different components within your working memory and all of them come together to help you retrieve this information. These are the three main parts:
Short-term memory is exactly as the name suggests, and you won’t be able to store things there for very long. When new information is fed into your working memory is only stays there temporarily. From there, it will either become part of your long-term memory or it is replaced by new information.
You can expect most information in your working memory to stay around for 10-15 seconds. However, if you start to rehearse the information or you continue to think about it, it will stay longer and be moved into your long term memory. Holding onto these memories requires a lot of effort and can overwhelm your brain.
Each person is different in what they can hold in their working memory capacity, but for most people, it’s quite small. In terms of what information, it can hold, you should get around five pieces of new information at once.
When we’re learning something new, your working memory won’t be able to hold as much because everything in there is new information. Therefore, it’s harder to hold and can only really fit about five pieces at a time.
Some things can be held longer and at a higher capacity, such as digits being held longer than letters and shorter words longer than large ones. You’ll limit your working memory when you start to retrieve information from permanent storage but it will take some of the pressure from your brain if you’re relying on long-term memory as well as short.
Working memory is being used all the time, and it’s running during some of the most important daily tasks that we do. These are a few examples of working memory tasks that use these special parts of our brains:
If you feel that your working memory could do with some improvement or the above tasks seem to be getting harder to do, there are some ways to fix it. Try these tips to strengthen your working memory and make yourself sharper:
Our working memory is a crucial part of the brain and something that we require from a very early age to help us learn everything. This short-term memory is used every day and is responsible for our conversations, following directions, or doing basic calculations, so it’s very important.
There are many parts of the brain responsible for working memory and as we learn more about it there’s no doubt we will find other ways to improve it. For now, some simple brain training exercises and utilizing lists and visualizations will keep your short-term memory sharp so that you don’t miss another thing.