Editor's Summary

24 November 2005

Concentrates the mind

Despite the presence of dozens of objects in the environment, our awareness is limited to only three or four objects at any given time. Because of this extreme limitation, we need to be able to control what reaches awareness so that only the most relevant information in the environment consumes this limited mental resource. A study of brain activity in subjects performing a task in which they were asked to 'hold in mind' some of the objects and to ignore other objects has revealed significant variation between individuals in their ability to keep the irrelevant items out of awareness. This shows that our awareness is not determined only by what we can keep 'in mind' but also by how good we are at keeping irrelevant things 'out of mind'. This also implies that an individual's effective memory capacity may not simply reflect storage space, as it does with a hard disk. It may also reflect how efficiently irrelevant information is excluded from using up vital storage capacity.

LetterNeural measures reveal individual differences in controlling access to working memory

Edward K. Vogel, Andrew W. McCollough and Maro G. Machizawa


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