How good is your working memory?
Whether it involves holding a telephone number in your head long enough to write it down or trying to keep track of all the items on a grocery list, having a good working memory is an essential part of daily life. Defined as "mental juggling" by H. Lee Swanson of the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Riverside, working memory involves being able to hold multiple pieces of information in your conscious mind long enough to convert it to some form of long-term storage.
Often regarded as being the same as short-term memory, working memory can include visual working memory (retaining data such as patterns, images, or mental maps) or auditory working memory (retaining words, numbers, or sounds). The information stored in working memory rarely lasts long without a conscious effort at retaining it for the future (through memory strategies such as repetition or rehearsal).
There are also limits on how many items we seem to carry in our heads at any one time. George Armitage Miller's classic paper, "The Magic Number Seven Plus or Minus Two" is considered to be one of the cornerstones of cognitive psychology by suggesting that people are usually only able to retain five to nine items at a time (hence the "magic number").
To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.