5 differences between short-term memory and working memory

Memory is a mental process and cognitive ability that we have used daily and practically since we were children. It is a fundamental process that enables learning. There are different types of memory depending on their utility, their temporality, their characteristics …

In this article, we will allude to two of them and talk about the differences between short-term memory and working memory. These are just a few of them, considered to be the most relevant. Before, however, we will talk about what memory is and where the definitions of short-term memory and working memory come from.

    What is memory?

    Memory alludes to a cognitive process, which involves the ability to record and recall memories. In other words, it allows the recording of external (and internal) information to store this information later, by evoking it at another time. However, there are many types of memories, depending on the criteria we use to classify them.

    The part of psychology that deals with the study of memory is Basic Psychology, which also studies other psychological and cognitive processes such as learning, perceiving, feeling, motivating, and reasoning.

    Source of short-term memory and working memory

    At the historical level, the first classification made of memory is that which divides this mental capacity into: short-term memory and long-term memory. While the former referred to the memory of events that had just occurred a few seconds ago (i.e. the ability to store and evoke these facts in the mind), the latter referred to to the ability to remember long term. that have been happening for a long time.

    This first classification of memory was proposed by Atkinson and Shiffrin in 1968. In this first classification, short-term memory was understood as a rather “static” process, that is to say, it simply referred to the fact of remembering or not remembering recent information (which we recorded a few seconds earlier).

    Later, however, another author offers a slightly different definition of short-term memory. This author was Alan Baddeley, and he proposed the concept of working memory or working memory in the central executive model. According to him, short-term memory is a type of operational memory, understanding it as a type of “active”, “dynamic” memory, which not only evokes information, but also actively transforms it for use in required tasks.

    For example, working memory is the one we use when we add, subtract, multiply or divide high numbers, and this allows us to manipulate and “memorize” the numbers we use to arrive at a final result. In other words, what A. Baddeley did was add executive functioning to short-term memory.

    Differences between short-term memory and working memory

    However, other authors than A. Baddeley consider that short-term memory and working memory consist of two completely different and independent concepts. Knowing all this, let’s summarize the differences between short-term memory and working memory:

    1. Definition and general characteristics

    The first of the differences between short-term memory and working memory relates to the very definition of each of these concepts. Thus, in general, we can say that short-term memory refers to a type of memory which follows a temporal criterion, and which consists of the ability to store and remember recent events (Which just happened a few seconds ago).

    Specifically, short-term memory has the ability to keep information active in the mind for 30 to 40 seconds.

    In contrast, working memory, although it can be considered a type of short-term memory (according to A. Baddeley), refers to a type of memory that it follows a more functional criterion; that is, it speaks of a type of memory that allows us to temporarily hold certain information in the mind, and to manipulate it (generally, this is information that we have just recorded) in order to use them in our learning or in the task we are developing.

    2. Function

    Following the previous section, we can extract that working memory allows us to get results, solve a problem, etc., while short-term memory is more “limiting” in this sense, and what makes us allows is to obtain or evoke information that we have just recorded.

    So, another of the differences between short term memory and working memory concerns its function. Thus, although the two types of memory have the common characteristic that their storage of information is of short duration (two types of memory allow information to be actively kept in mind), to working memory is added the “plus” which manipulates and transforms this information.

    3. Significant aspects

    Thus, we find that short-term memory focuses on the time that information is stored and its subsequent evocation, and that working memory focuses on an idea of ​​memory as a system for controlling and manipulating l ‘information.

    In other words, by following the differences between short-term memory and working memory, we see how short term memory highlights storage time and working memory highlights processing of information.

    4. Intervention in other processes

    The next of the differences between short-term memory and working memory is found in how each of these memories is involved in other cognitive processes. So while short-term memory is not so involved in some other cognitive process, working memory does; more precisely, it is involved in complex cognitive processes such as reading, reasoning or understanding language.

    This is so because the working memory it allows us to use and manage information from different sources to evoke them later and use them on other cognitive processes such as those mentioned. This is why it is an increasingly important and academically recognized memory, because it allows and facilitates the various learning processes.

      5. Relationship with other types of memory

      Can we relate these two memories to other types of memory? In the case of short-term memory, we have seen how its “opposite” is long-term memory., In the sense that both refer to a temporal criterion of memory retention. However, their relationship ends here.

      In contrast, by following the differences between short term memory and working memory, we see how working memory if it maintains an active relationship with other types of memory; in this case, with long-term memory.

      More precisely, what working memory does is establish partnerships and relationships with the data we process, To end up integrating on the side other information stored in the long-term memory. We can relate this to the previous section, as this relationship with long-term memory enables other cognitive processes relevant to learning.

      Bibliographical references:

      • De vega, M. (1999). Introduction to cognitive psychology. Psychology Alliance. Madrid.
      • Tirapu-Ustárroz, J. and Grandi, F. (2016). On working memory and declarative memory: proposal for a conceptual clarification. Pan American Journal of Neuropsychology, 10 (3): 13-31.
      • Tirapu-Ustárroz, J. and Muñoz-Céspedes, JM (2005). Memory and executive functions. Journal of Neurology, 41 (8): 475-484.

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