• The Lifespan Working Memory Research Group

    Psychology Department, University of Sheffield


    Dr. Alicia Forsberg

    I am a Lecturer in Cognitive Psychology at the University of Sheffield. I am interested in working memory and the development of memory and attention across the human lifespan, including both child development and cognitive ageing. Recently, I have been exploring the relationship between working and long-term memory and the development of object and feature memory. My research also examines lifespan differences in meta-cognition and how people approach cognitive tasks. I am very interested in open and reproducible science, Bayesian statistics, and research methodology.

  • What We Do

    Recent Research

    Working memory limits severely constrain long-term retention

    There has been considerable controversy in recent years as to whether information held in working memory (WM) is rapidly forgotten or automatically transferred to long-term memory (LTM). Although visual WM capacity is very limited, we appear able to store a virtually infinite amount of information in visual LTM. Still, LTM retrieval often fails. Some view visual WM as a mental sketchpad that is wiped clean when new information enters, but not a consistent precursor of LTM. Others view the WM and LTM systems as inherently linked. Distinguishing between these possibilities has been difficult, as attempts to directly manipulate the active holding of information in visual WM has typically introduced various confounds. Here, we capitalized on the WM system’s capacity limitation to control the likelihood that visual information was actively held in WM. Our young-adult participants (N = 103) performed a WM task with unique everyday items, presented in groups of two, four, six, or eight items. Presentation time was adjusted according to the number of items. Subsequently, we tested participants’ LTM for items from the WM task. LTM was better for items presented originally within smaller WM set sizes, indicating that WM limitations contribute to subsequent LTM failures, and that holding items in WM enhances LTM encoding. Our results suggest that a limit in WM capacity contributes to an LTM encoding bottleneck for trial-unique familiar objects, with a relatively large effect size.
    Forsberg, A., Guitard, D., & Cowan, N. (2021). Working memory limits severely constrain long-term retention. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 28(2), 537-547.

    Children's long-term retention is directly constrained by their working memory capacity limitations

    We explored the causal role of individual and age-related differences in working memory (WM) capacity in long-term memory (LTM) retrieval. Our sample of 160 participants included 120 children (6 – 13-years old) and 40 young adults (18 – 24 years). Participants performed a WM task with images of unique everyday items, presented at varying set sizes. Subsequently, we tested participants' LTM for items from the WM task. Using these measures, we estimated the ratio at which items successfully held in WM were recognized in LTM. While WM and LTM generally improved with age, the ability to transfer information from WM to LTM appeared consistent between age groups. Moreover, individual differences in WM capacity appeared to predict LTM encoding. Overall, these results suggested that LTM performance was constrained by experimental, individual, and age-related WM limitations. We discuss the theoretical and practical implications of this WM-to-LTM bottleneck.
    Forsberg, A., Guitard, D., Adams, E. J., Pattanakul, D., & Cowan, N. (2021). Children's long-term retention is directly constrained by their working memory capacity limitations. Developmental Science.

    The development of metacognitive accuracy in working memory across childhood

    Growth in working memory capacity, the number of items kept active in mind, is thought to be an important aspect of childhood cognitive development. Here, we focused on participants’ awareness of the contents of their working memory, or meta-working memory, which seems important because people can put cognitive abilities to best use only if they are aware of their limitations. In two experiments on the development of meta-working memory in children between 6 and 13 years old and adults, participants were to remember arrays of colored squares and to indicate if a probe item was in the array. On many trials, before the probe recognition test, they reported a metajudgment, how many items they thought they remembered. We compared meta-working memory judgments to actual performance and looked for associations between these measures on individual and trial-by-trial levels. Despite much lower working memory capacity in younger children there was little change in meta-working memory judgments across age groups. Consequently, younger participants were much less realistic in their metajudgments concerning their working memory capability. Higher cognitive capacity was associated with more accurate meta-working memory judgments within an age group. Trial-by-trial tuning of metajudgments was evident only in young adults and then only for small array set sizes. In sum, meta-working memory ability is a sophisticated skill that develops with age and may be an integral aspect of the development of working memory across the school years.
    Forsberg, A., Blume, C. L., & Cowan, N. (2021). The development of metacognitive accuracy in working memory across childhood. Developmental Psychology.
  • Research Opportunities

    I am looking to recruit Ph.D. students for the Fall of 2022. Please keep an eye on this space if you are interested, or feel free to reach out with any questions. Informal inquires about research assistant and postdoc opportunities are also very welcome. 

  • Connect

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