Memory activation and attentional focusing

Nelson Cowan

in Attention and Memory

Published in print February 1998 | ISBN: 9780195119107
Published online January 2008 | e-ISBN: 9780199870097 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Psychology Series

 Memory activation and attentional focusing

Show Summary Details


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

Chapter.  15567 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Cognitive Psychology

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.