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Investigating Learning and Memory in Humans  

Evangelia G. Chrysikou, Elizabeth Espinal, and Alexandra E. Kelly

Memory refers to the set of cognitive systems and the neural structures that support them that allow humans to learn from experience, leverage this knowledge to understand and guide behavior in the present, and use past memories to think about and plan for the future. Neuroscience research on learning and memory has leveraged advances in behavioral methods, structural and functional brain imaging, noninvasive brain stimulation, and lesion studies to evaluate synergies and dissociations among small- and large-scale neural networks in support of memory performance. Overall, this work has converged to a conceptualization of new memories as representations of distributed patterns of neural activity across cortical and subcortical brain systems that provide neural grounding of sensorimotor and perceptual experiences, actions, thoughts, and emotions, and which can be reinstated as a result of internal or external cues. Most of this literature has supported dissociations among working and long-term memory, as well as between procedural, episodic, and semantic memories. On the other hand, progress in human neuroscience methodologies has revealed the interdependence of these memory systems in the context of complex cognitive tasks and suggests a dynamic and highly interactive neural architecture underlying human learning and memory. Future neuroscience research is anticipated to focus on understanding the neural mechanisms supporting this interactivity at the cellular and systems levels, as well as investigating the time course of their engagement.

Article

Working Memory: Models and Applications  

Stoo Sepp, Steven J. Howard, Sharon Tindall-Ford, Shirley Agostinho, and Fred Paas

In 1956, Miller first reported on a capacity limitation in the amount of information the human brain can process, which was thought to be seven plus or minus two items. The system of memory used to process information for immediate use was coined “working memory” by Miller, Galanter, and Pribram in 1960. In 1968, Atkinson and Shiffrin proposed their multistore model of memory, which theorized that the memory system was separated into short-term memory, long-term memory, and the sensory register, the latter of which temporarily holds and forwards information from sensory inputs to short term-memory for processing. Baddeley and Hitch built upon the concept of multiple stores, leading to the development of the multicomponent model of working memory in 1974, which described two stores devoted to the processing of visuospatial and auditory information, both coordinated by a central executive system. Later, Cowan’s theorizing focused on attentional factors in the effortful and effortless activation and maintenance of information in working memory. In 1988, Cowan published his model—the scope and control of attention model. In contrast, since the early 2000s Engle has investigated working memory capacity through the lens of his individual differences model, which does not seek to quantify capacity in the same way as Miller or Cowan. Instead, this model describes working memory capacity as the interplay between primary memory (working memory), the control of attention, and secondary memory (long-term memory). This affords the opportunity to focus on individual differences in working memory capacity and extend theorizing beyond storage to the manipulation of complex information. These models and advancements have made significant contributions to understandings of learning and cognition, informing educational research and practice in particular. Emerging areas of inquiry include investigating use of gestures to support working memory processing, leveraging working memory measures as a means to target instructional strategies for individual learners, and working memory training. Given that working memory is still debated, and not yet fully understood, researchers continue to investigate its nature, its role in learning and development, and its implications for educational curricula, pedagogy, and practice.

Article

Animal Cognition  

Sarah Krichbaum, Adam Davila, Lucia Lazarowski, and Jeffrey S. Katz

The contemporary field of animal cognition began over 150 years ago when Charles Darwin posed questions regarding the abilities of the animal mind. Animal cognition is a science dedicated to understanding the processes and mechanisms that allow nonhumans to think and behave. The techniques that are used and the species that are studied are diverse. The historical questions originally proposed by ethologist Nikolas Tinbergen as a framework for studying animal behavior remain at the core of the field. These questions are reviewed along with the domains and methods of animal cognition with a focus on concept learning, memory, and canine cognition. Finally, ideas on how a field rich in tradition and methodological strength should proceed in the future are presented.

Article

Information Processing and Human Memory  

Paul Eggen

Information processing is a cognitive learning theory that helps explain how individuals acquire, process, store, and retrieve information from memory. The cognitive architecture that facilitates the processing of information consists of three components: memory stores, cognitive processes, and metacognition. The memory stores are sensory memory, a virtually unlimited store that briefly holds stimuli from the environment in an unprocessed form until processing begins; working memory, the conscious component of our information processing system, limited in both capacity and duration, where knowledge is organized and constructed in a form that makes sense to the individual; and long-term memory, a vast and durable store that holds an individual’s lifetime of acquired information. Information is moved from sensory memory to working memory using the cognitive processes attention, selectively focusing on a single stimulus, and perception, the process of attaching meaning to stimuli. After information is organized in working memory so it makes sense to the individual, it is represented in long-term memory through the process of encoding, where it can later be retrieved and connected to new information from the environment. Metacognition is a regulatory mechanism that facilitates the use of strategies, such as chunking, automaticity, and distributed processing, that help accommodate the limitations of working memory, and schema activation, organization, elaboration, and imagery that promote the efficient encoding of information into long-term memory. Information processing theory has implications for our daily living ranging from tasks as simple as shopping at a supermarket to those as sophisticated as solving complex problems.

Article

Influence of Anxiety on Cognitive Control Processes  

DeMond M. Grant and Evan J. White

Cognitive control is the ability to direct attention and cognitive resources toward achieving one’s goals. However, research indicates that anxiety biases multiple cognitive processes, including cognitive control. This occurs in part because anxiety leads to excessive processing of threatening stimuli at the expense of ongoing activities. This enhanced processing of threat interferes with several cognitive processes, which includes how individuals view and respond to their environment. Specifically, research indicates that anxious individuals devote their attention toward threat when considering both early, automatic processes and later, sustained attention. In addition, anxiety has negative effects on working memory, which involves the ability to hold and manipulate information in one’s consciousness. Anxiety has been found to decrease the resources necessary for effective working memory performance, as well as increase the likelihood of negative information entering working memory. Finally, anxiety is characterized by focusing excessive attention on mistakes, and there is also a reduction in the cognitive control resources necessary to correct behavior. Enhancing our knowledge of how anxiety affects cognitive control has broad implications for understanding the development of anxiety disorders, as well as emerging treatments for these conditions.

Article

Working Memory and Cognitive Aging  

Paul Verhaeghen

Working memory as a temporary buffer for cognitive processing is an essential part of the cognitive system. Its capacity and select aspects of its functioning are age sensitive, more so for spatial than verbal material. Assumed causes for this decline include a decline in cognitive resources (such as speed of processing), and/or a breakdown in basic control processes (resistance to interference, task coordination, memory updating, binding, and/or top-down control as inferred from neuroimaging data). Meta-analyses suggest that a decline in cognitive resources explains much more of the age-related variance in true working memory tasks than a breakdown in basic control processes, although the latter is highly implicated in tasks of passive storage. The age-related decline in working memory capacity has downstream effects on more complex aspects of cognition (episodic memory, spatial cognition, and reasoning ability). Working memory remains plastic in old age, and training in working memory and cognitive control processes yields near transfer effects, but little evidence for strong far transfer.

Article

Cognitive Development in Chimpanzees  

Tetsuro Matsuzawa

Cognitive development in chimpanzees has been illuminated through fieldwork and laboratory studies. Their life history reveals the importance of the mother–infant relationship. Females give birth at 5-year intervals on average, and the infants cling to their mothers in the first 3 months. Each chimpanzee community has its own unique cultural traditions, for example in tool use. How tools are used is passed across generations through social learning, in a process called education by master-apprenticeship. Laboratory studies in the early 21st century examined chimpanzees’ learning abilities even at the fetal stage. Chimpanzee and human cognition appear similar in both physical and social domains, and they follow the same developmental stages. However, there is a fundamental difference in the levels of complexity of hierarchical structure. Chimpanzees do not show the recursive and infinite levels that characterize human cognition. Chimpanzees are good at memorizing things at a glance but less skilled at representing things through imagination. The cognitive trade-off between working memory and language may explain the essential difference in cognitive development in the two species.