Just How Hard Will Your Memory Work For You?

This past JanPlan I spent my time interviewing School Psychologists about how to diagnose learning disabilities and what the future holds for individuals who possess them. I decided to mix it up and get the opinion of an incredible tutor, Stacy Harris, who holds a PhD in Neuroscience. Her path to working with people with learning disabilities is complex, yet her commitment to helping students – and succeeding – is unprecedented; her neuroscientific perspective has lead her to hold an international patent on her tutoring method.

In my interview with her, I asked Stacy what key ability, above all of them, would help someone learn best and help them counter a disability. Her response? Working memory. What is so special about this kind of memory, anyway? In a nutshell, working memory grants an individual the ability to actively hold information while completing tasks such as reasoning and comprehension. Furthermore, it is responsible for monitoring executive functioning and manipulating information while working with short-term memory.

As it turns out, someone super smart at Yale is studying working memory in monkeys. Patricia Goldman-Rakic records the neurons in the frontal cortex of monkeys while they perform memory tasks and has discovered that each portion of the brain has its own working memory station located in the frontal lobe. In each of these specific areas are neurons are integral to holding and processing highly specific pieces of information (the tone of someone’s voice, or the features of a person’s face). If you’d like to read more about her work and research, click here and here.

A common lesson we learn in just about every Biology and Chemistry class is the theory “form fits function.” And this is no exception: since the brain deems it important to have a working memory station with highly specific neurons associated with each part of the brain – form – that is integral to a function, working memory, it seems as though Stacy has been right all along: working memory is critical for learning – and even working around learning disabilities.

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One thought on “Just How Hard Will Your Memory Work For You?

  1. I find the concept of different working memory stations interesting. If we have different stations for different tasks, what is it that limits the number of tasks we can perform at one time? For example, if we were asked to identify a face, a separate voice, and maybe remember a song all at the same time, shouldn’t we be able to do so without interference if they are depending on separate stations? Maybe our the inability to perform multiple tasks then comes from our limited response mechanisms and not our ability to handle the information to which we are attending, but I certainly feel like there are only so many things I can work with at once. Is attention the same as working memory?

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