The effects of feedback on working memory capacity
Acklin, William Thomas
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Working memory (WM) is an essential component of the cognitive system, which is limited in capacity and requires attentional control to actively maintain information in the presence of internal and external distraction. An individual’s working memory capacity (WMC), measured via complex WM span tasks, indicates one’s ability to maintain task relevant information accessible in a highly active state, particularly when interference is present (Unsworth, Schrock, & Engle, 2004). While WMC has traditionally been considered to be a trait variable (Conway et al., 2005), recent research suggests state variable characteristics (i.e., temporary variations) associated with WMC. Such variations have been found in conditions that consume WM, such as anxiety, pressure, and intrusive thoughts (Beilock & Carr, 2001). The present study seeks to examine these phenomena via providing false feedback as a manipulation to examine temporary changes in one’s WMC. The participants performed one working memory task, followed by a manipulation of either negative or positive feedback, then completed a second highly correlated working memory task. The results revealed that the manipulation affected participants’ performance on a subsequent second WM task. These results confirm that it is possible to temporarily change the amount of WMC available. Participants in the positive feedback condition revealed significant improvement on the second task, suggesting their WM was freed up to maintain more focus on the task. Participants in the negative feedback condition performed poorer on the second task, suggesting their WMC was reduced due to rumination about their prior performance.