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Stoltzfus, E. R., Hasher, L., & Zacks, R. T. (1996). Working memory and aging: Current status of the inhibitory view. In J. T. E. Richardson (Ed.), Counterpoints in Cognition: Working Memory and Human Cognition. (pp. 66-68). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.


Excerpt from Chapter: The construct of working memory has become a central component of many models of cognitive functioning, including those developed in the areas of thinking, problem solving, and memory, as well as in most aspects of language processing, such as comprehension, production, and reading. Generally, working memory is conceptualized as a mental workspace consisting of activated memory presentations that are available in a temporary buffer for manipulation during cognitive processing. These activated representations may or may not be available to consciousness, but they are usually thought to be above some threshold of activation (Baddeley, 1986, 1992; cf. Cowan, 1988, 1993). Working memory has both storage and processing functions, enabling both the temporary maintenance of active representations in memory and also the manipulation of these representations in the service of current processing demands. In tasks such a language comprehension, in which complex processing of current information is ongoing but in which continuity with previous information must be preserved at all times, efficient operation of both the processing and storage components of working memory is critical. Demands placed on working memory at any given time will, of course, vary across situations and across individuals who differ in expertise or cognitive abilities.

Although there is considerable agreement that working memory plays a critical role in cognitive processing, a lack of consensus exists among cognitive theorists as to how best to conceptualize working memory and the role it plays in different cognitive activities. In this chapter we first consider conceptualization of working memory that stress its purported limited capacity, and then we turn to an alternative (first proposed by Hasher & Zacks, 1988) that focuses on the inhibitory control of the contents of working memory. Following a review of the evidence relevant to this alternative, particularly evidence stemming from studies exploring adult age differences in attention, memory, and language, we shall conclude with a discussion of issues that are in need of further clarification and investigation.

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