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TacoBrain Vision

What is working memory?

Working memory, a fundamental concept in cognitive psychology, was first proposed and extensively researched by Alan Baddeley and Graham Hitch in the early 1970s. Prior to their work, the prevailing model of memory primarily focused on short-term memory as a passive storage system without considering the active manipulation of information. Baddeley and Hitch challenged this notion by introducing the concept of working memory as a dynamic system involved in both the temporary storage and active processing of information to support cognitive tasks.

 

In their seminal paper titled "Working Memory" published in 1974, Baddeley and Hitch presented their influential multicomponent model of working memory, which revolutionized the understanding of human memory and cognition. The model proposed three main components: the phonological loop, responsible for the temporary storage of verbal information; the visuospatial sketchpad, responsible for the temporary storage of visual and spatial information; and the central executive, responsible for controlling attention, coordinating cognitive processes, and integrating information from different sources. This model provided a comprehensive framework for understanding the complex processes involved in working memory and laid the foundation for decades of research in the field.

 

Since its introduction, the concept of working memory has become central to the study of cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and related disciplines. Researchers have extensively investigated the neural mechanisms underlying working memory, its role in various cognitive tasks and behaviors, and its implications for learning, problem-solving, decision-making, and academic achievement. The understanding of working memory continues to evolve, with ongoing research addressing questions related to its development across the lifespan, individual differences in working memory capacity, the effectiveness of working memory training interventions, and its role in neurological and psychiatric disorders.

Latest literature defined working memory as a cognitive system responsible for temporarily holding and manipulating information required for various mental tasks, such as reasoning, learning, problem-solving, and comprehension. It allows individuals to actively maintain and manipulate information in their mind over short periods to support ongoing cognitive processes.

Working memory involves several components:

  1. Short-term Storage: Working memory temporarily stores information that is currently being processed or manipulated. This storage capacity is limited and typically lasts for a few seconds to minutes.

  2. Attention Control: Working memory helps regulate attention, allowing individuals to focus on relevant information while ignoring distractions or irrelevant stimuli.

  3. Manipulation of Information: Working memory enables individuals to manipulate stored information, such as mentally rearranging items, combining or comparing pieces of information, or updating information based on new inputs.

  4. Executive Functions: Working memory is closely linked to executive functions, such as cognitive control, planning, decision-making, and problem-solving. It provides the mental workspace necessary for executing complex cognitive tasks.

 

Working memory is essential for various everyday activities, including following instructions, understanding spoken language, reading comprehension, mental arithmetic, reasoning, and decision-making. It plays a crucial role in academic and professional success, as well as in maintaining independence and cognitive functioning throughout life.

The capacity and efficiency of working memory can vary among individuals and can be influenced by factors such as age, genetics, neurological conditions, and environmental factors. Training programs designed to improve working memory have gained attention in recent years as potential interventions for enhancing cognitive abilities and academic performance.

What does working memory affect?

Multiple studies have found correlation (if not causation) between having a strong working memory and a broad range of domains:

  1. Enhanced Learning and Academic Performance: Individuals with strong working memory capacity tend to excel in learning and academic performance. This benefit has been confirmed by studies such as:

    • Alloway, T. P., & Alloway, R. G. (2010). Investigating the predictive roles of working memory and IQ in academic attainment. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 106(1), 20-29.

  2. Improved Problem-Solving Skills: Strong working memory skills contribute to better problem-solving abilities. Research supporting this benefit includes:

    • Kane, M. J., Hambrick, D. Z., & Conway, A. R. (2005). Working memory capacity and fluid intelligence are strongly related constructs: comment on Ackerman, Beier, and Boyle (2005). Psychological Bulletin, 131(1), 66-71.

  3. Better Decision-Making Abilities: Individuals with robust working memory demonstrate improved decision-making skills. This finding is supported by studies such as:

    • Unsworth, N., & Engle, R. W. (2007). The nature of individual differences in working memory capacity: active maintenance in primary memory and controlled search from secondary memory. Psychological Review, 114(1), 104-132.

  4. Enhanced Cognitive Flexibility: Strong working memory is associated with greater cognitive flexibility. Evidence for this benefit can be found in studies like:

    • Miyake, A., Friedman, N. P., Emerson, M. J., Witzki, A. H., Howerter, A., & Wager, T. D. (2000). The unity and diversity of executive functions and their contributions to complex "frontal lobe" tasks: A latent variable analysis. Cognitive Psychology, 41(1), 49-100.

  5. Improved Attentional Control: Individuals with strong working memory skills exhibit better attentional control. This is supported by research such as:

    • Kane, M. J., & Engle, R. W. (2003). Working-memory capacity and the control of attention: The contributions of goal neglect, response competition, and task set to Stroop interference. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 132(1), 47-70.

  6. Effective Communication Skills: Working memory capacity is linked to proficient language processing and verbal communication. Evidence for this can be found in studies like:

    • Daneman, M., & Carpenter, P. A. (1980). Individual differences in working memory and reading. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 19(4), 450-466.

  7. Better Planning and Organization: Strong working memory facilitates effective planning, organization, and goal-directed behavior. Supporting research includes:

    • Gathercole, S. E., & Pickering, S. J. (2000). Working memory deficits in children with low achievements in the national curriculum at 7 years of age. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 70(2), 177-194.

Can working memory be trained?

There are a lot of studies which show that some working memory training is effective to some extent, but the main problem is that they couldn't be reproduced (when the same study was retried with different participants, but under same conditions the outcome was different, meaning the rate of improvement was not as high as in the first study.

Furthermore, some studies show that the knowledge gained from training a type of task isn't transferrable to other types of tasks. Some studies show some transfer to near tasks, but most of the studies show no transfer to far tasks. 

Current literature shows the the ongoing consensus between scientists is that working memory sometimes works, but it's unclear what makes it work (since it's initial success cannot be reproduced). Moreover, training doesn't transfer to other types of tasks, which makes the training a bit ineffective as an improvement tool. 

TacoBrain vision

Backstory. While reading various studies I realized that the training methods which were used were ineffective because they failed to allow the brain to work in its own parameters:  

  1. Lack of Specificity in Transfer Effects: One of the primary challenges is the lack of specificity in transfer effects. While individuals may demonstrate improvements in trained working memory tasks, these gains often fail to generalize to untrained cognitive tasks or real-world activities. The limited transfer suggests that the benefits of working memory training may not extend beyond the specific tasks used in the training protocol.

  2. Variability in Training Protocols: Studies investigating working memory training interventions utilize a wide range of training protocols, including differences in training duration, intensity, frequency, and task complexity. This variability makes it challenging to determine the optimal parameters for effective training. Moreover, the specific features of the training tasks may influence the outcomes, with some tasks showing greater transfer effects than others.

  3. Individual Differences in Responsiveness: There is considerable variability in individual responsiveness to working memory training interventions. While some participants may demonstrate significant improvements in working memory performance following training, others may show minimal or no benefit. Individual differences in factors such as baseline working memory capacity, cognitive abilities, age, and neurobiological factors may influence the response to training.

  4. Methodological Issues in Study Design: Many studies investigating working memory training suffer from methodological limitations, including small sample sizes, inadequate control groups, lack of blinding, and insufficient follow-up assessments. These issues weaken the reliability and validity of the findings and hinder the ability to draw firm conclusions about the efficacy of working memory training.

  5. Theoretical Underpinnings: There is ongoing debate about the underlying mechanisms of working memory training effects. While some researchers attribute improvements to the plasticity of neural circuits supporting working memory functions, others argue that practice effects, motivational factors, or placebo effects may contribute to observed gains.

TacoBrain is a fresh approach to working memory training and we will test it's effectiveness. 

TacoBrain tenets:

  1. Screen time. At the end of the day, TacoBrain is an app, and any other brain training app out there asks users to stay engaged with the screen for the entire duration of a task. That feels like the counterintuitive approach to allowing the brain to work effectively. So, TacoBrain users should not be asked to look into the phone while they're trying to work through an exercise; that is considered an interruption for the brain, and it cuts down brains effectiveness; instead, users will be given a task and they'll have plenty of time of mentally work on it, with the phone screen off.   

  2. No timers. Every brain is different and a ton of factors affect brains performance. Adding a timer to solving a tasks only diminishes the brains capacity to deal with said task within its own schedule.

  3. Novelty. Exercises need to be different enough so that the brain will continue to be excited by each challenge.

  4. Reward. Although rewarding the brain when achieving a task can be seen as an effective tool to motivate, that kind of approach only brews addiction. Motivation. The user should walk their own path of working memory training, and understand, admit, and accept that working memory training is very similar to going to the gym: reward comes from within and from living a healthier and happier life. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

  5. Difficulty. Each exercise should offer different difficulty flavor to the user so  

  6. Discipline. At the end of the day, the aim of TacoBrain is to develop, on top of a better working memory, a self discipline which users can not just use, but also control. 

How is TacoBrain supposed to be used?

How often?

Use TacoBrain similarly to how you'd go to the gym: take a few minutes daily to do some exercises. 

How long should I train?

Todo

While exercises should I focus on?

Todo

TacoBrain and you.

TacoBrain is an experiment. An idea. If the idea is correct, then it will develop over time to be a reliable framework which users will rely on to train their working memory. If you want to be part of this journey, sign up, start training, and let us know your thoughts! 

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