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Baddeley's model of working memory

Schematic of Baddeley's Model

Alan Baddeley and Graham Hitch proposed a model of working memory in 1974, in an attempt to describe a more accurate model of short-term memory.

Baddeley & Hitch proposed their three part working memory model as an alternative to the short-term store in Atkinson & Shiffrin's 'multi-store' memory model (1968). This model is later expanded upon by Baddeley and other co-workers and has become the dominant view in the field of working memory. However, alternative models are developing (see working memory) providing a different perspective on the working memory system.

The original model of Baddeley & Hitch was composed of three main components; the central executive which acts as supervisory system and controls the flow of information from and to its slave systems: the phonological loop and the visuo-spatial sketchpad. The phonological loop stores verbal content, whereas the visuo-spatial sketchpad caters to visuo-spatial data. Both the slave systems only function as short-term storage centers. In 2000 Baddeley added a third slave system to his model, the episodic buffer.

Baddeley & Hitch's argument for the distinction of two domain-specific slave systems in the older model was derived from experimental findings with dual-task paradigms. Performance of two simultaneous tasks requiring the use of two separate perceptual domains (i.e. a visual and a verbal task) is nearly as efficient as performance of the tasks individually. In contrast, when a person tries to carry out two tasks simultaneously that use the same perceptual domain, performance is less efficient than when performing the tasks individually.


File:Baddeley working memory.jpg
Baddeley's first model of working memory (without the episodic buffer)

Central executive

The central executive is a flexible system responsible for the control and regulation of cognitive processes. It has the following functions:

  • binding information from a number of sources into coherent episodes
  • coordination of the slave systems
  • shifting between tasks or retrieval strategies
  • selective attention and inhibition

It can be thought of as a supervisory system that controls cognitive processes and intervenes when they go astray.

Using the dual-task paradigm, Baddeley and Erses have found, for instance, that patients with Alzheimer's dementia are impaired when performing multiple tasks simultaneously, even when the difficulty of the individual tasks is adapted to their abilities.[1]

Recent research on executive functions suggests that the 'central' executive is not as central as conceived in the Baddeley & Hitch model. Rather, there seem to be separate executive functions that can vary largely independently between individuals and can be selectively impaired or spared by brain damage.[2]

Phonological loop

File:Baddeley phonological loop.jpg
Baddeley's model of the phonological loop

The phonological loop (or "articulatory loop") as a whole deals with sound or phonological information. It consists of two parts: a short-term phonological store with auditory memory traces that are subject to rapid decay and an articulatory rehearsal component (sometimes called the articulatory loop) that can revive the memory traces.

Any auditory verbal information is assumed to enter automatically into the phonological store. Visually presented language can be transformed into phonological code by silent articulation and thereby be encoded into the phonological store. This transformation is facilitated by the articulatory control process. The phonological store acts as an "inner ear", remembering speech sounds in their temporal order, whilst the articulatory process acts as an "inner voice" and repeats the series of words (or other speech elements) on a loop to prevent them from decaying. The phonological loop may play a key role in the acquisition of vocabulary, particularly in the early childhood years.[3] It may also be vital for learning a second language.

Five main findings provide evidence for the phonological loop:

  1. The effect of phonological similarity:
    Lists of words that sound similar are more difficult to remember than words that sound different. Semantic similarity (similarity of meaning) has comparatively little effect, supporting the assumption that verbal information is coded largely phonologically in working memory.[4]
  2. The effect of articulatory suppression:
    Memory for verbal material is impaired when people are asked to say something irrelevant aloud. This is assumed to block the articulatory rehearsal process, thereby leaving memory traces in the phonological loop to decay.[5]
  3. Transfer of information between codes:
    With visually presented items, adults usually name and sub-vocally rehearse them, so the information is transferred from a visual to an auditory code. Articulatory suppression prevents this transfer, and in that case the above-mentioned effect of phonological similarity is erased for visually presented items.[6]
  4. Neuropsychological evidence:
    A defective phonological store explains the behavior of patients with a specific deficit in phonological short-term memory. Aphasic patients with developmental verbal dyspraxia are unable to set up the speech motor codes necessary for articulation, caused by a deficiency of the articulatory rehearsal process.[7]
  5. On the other hand, patients with dysarthria, whose speech problems are secondary, show a normal capacity for rehearsal. This suggests that it is the subvocal rehearsing that is crucial.[8]

Evidence in Support of Phonological Short Term Store

An accumulation of literature across decades has lent strong support to the theory of phonological STS. In a 1971 study, Stephen Madigan demonstrated that a larger recency effect is seen during forward serial recall when people are presented a list auditorally as opposed to visually. (A smaller effect is seen in backwards serial recall.)[9] In his study, auditory presentation led to greater recall of the most recently studied items. Catherine Penney expanded on this discovery to observe that modality effects can also be found in the case of free recall tasks.[10] In 1965, Dallett had discovered that this observed modality effect is greatly reduced by the addition of a "suffix" item to the presented list; this suffix is a distractor item that is not to be recalled.[11] Robert Greene utilized this observation in 1987 to discover that this suffix effect has a larger impact on lists learned auditorally as opposed to visually.[12] The culmination of all of these findings results in strong support of the theory that there is a short-term store that phonologically stores recently learned items. In addition, Bloom and Watkins found that the suffix effect is greatly diminished when the suffix is not interpreted as linguistic sound, which agrees with the phonological short term store theory as it would be largely unaffected by non-linguistic distractors.[13]

Visuospatial sketchpad

The visuospatial sketchpad is assumed to hold information about what we see. It is used in the temporary storage and manipulation of spatial and visual information, such as remembering shapes and colours, or the location or speed of objects in space. It is also involved in tasks which involve planning of spatial movements, like planning one's way through a complex building. The visuospatial sketchpad can be divided into separate visual, spatial and possibly kinaesthetic (movement) components. It is principally represented within the right hemisphere of the brain.[14]

Logie's elaboration of the visuospatial sketchpad

Logie has proposed that the visuospatial sketchpad can be further subdivided into two components:

  1. The visual cache, which stores information about form and color.
  2. The inner scribe, which deals with spatial and movement information. It also rehearses information in the visual cache and transfers information to the central executive.[15]

Three main findings provide evidence for the distinction between visual and spatial parts of the visuospatial sketchpad:

  1. There is less interference between visual and spatial tasks than between two visual tasks or two spatial tasks.[16]
  2. Brain damage can influence one of the components without influencing the other.[17]
  3. Results from brain-imaging show that working memory tasks with visual objects activate mostly areas in the left hemisphere, whereas tasks with spatial information activate more areas in the right hemisphere.[18]

Episodic buffer

In 2000 Baddeley added a fourth component to the model, the episodic buffer. This component is a third slave system, dedicated to linking information across domains to form integrated units of visual, spatial, and verbal information with time sequencing (or chronological ordering), such as the memory of a story or a movie scene. The episodic buffer is also assumed to have links to long-term memory and semantic meaning.[19]

The main motivation for introducing this component was the observation that some (in particular, highly intelligent) patients with amnesia, who presumably have no ability to encode new information in long-term memory, nevertheless have good short-term recall of stories, recalling much more information than could be held in the phonological loop.[20]


There is much evidence for a brief memory buffer, as distinct from the long term store. The phonological loop seems to be connected to activation in the left hemisphere, more specifically the temporal lobe. The visio-spatial sketchpad activates different areas depending on task difficulty; less intense tasks seem to activate in the occipital lobe, whereas more complex tasks appear in the parietal lobe. The central executive is still a mystery, although it would seem to be more or less located in the frontal lobes of the brain. The episodic buffer seems to be in both hemispheres (bilateral) with activations in both the frontal and temporal lobes, and even the left portion of the hippocampus. (Rudner et al., 2007) In terms of genetics, the gene ROBO1 has been associated with phonological buffer integrity or length.[21][22]

Validity of the model

The strength of Baddeley's model is its ability to integrate a large number of findings from work on short-term and working memory. Additionally, the mechanisms of the slave systems, especially the phonological loop, has inspired a wealth of research in experimental psychology, neuropsychology, and cognitive neuroscience.

However, criticisms have been raised, for instance of the phonological-loop component, because some details of the findings are not easily explained by the original Baddeley & Hitch model.[23][24]

The episodic buffer is seen as a helpful addition to the model of working memory, but it has not been investigated extensively and its functions remain unclear.[25]



  1. ^ Baddeley A, Della Sala S (October 1996). "Working memory and executive control" (PDF). Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 351 (1346): 1397–403. JSTOR 3069185. PMID 8941951. doi:10.1098/rstb.1996.0123. 
  2. ^ Miyake, A.; Friedman, N. P.; Emerson, M. J.; Witzki, A. H.; Howerter, A.; Wager, T. D. (2000). "The unity and diversity of executive functions and their contributions to complex "frontal lobe" tasks: A latent variable analysis". Cognitive Psychology 41 (1): 49–100. PMID 10945922. doi:10.1006/cogp.1999.0734. 
  3. ^ Baddeley A, Gathercole S, Papagno C (January 1998). "The phonological loop as a language learning device". Psychol Rev 105 (1): 158–73. PMID 9450375. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.105.1.158. 
  4. ^ a) Conrad. R. & Hull, A.J. (November 1964). "Information, acoustic confusion and memory span" (PDF). British Journal of Psychology 55: 429–32. PMID 14237884. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8295.1964.tb00928.x. 
    b) Baddeley AD (November 1966). "Short-term memory for word sequences as a function of acoustic, semantic and formal similarity" (PDF). Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 18 (4): 362–5. PMID 5956080. doi:10.1080/14640746608400055. 
  5. ^ Baddeley, A.D.; Thomson, N; Buchanan, M (1975). "Word length and the structure of short-term memory". Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 14: 575–589. doi:10.1016/S0022-5371(75)80045-4. 
  6. ^ Murray, D.J. (1968). "Articulation and acoustic confusability in short term memory". Journal of Experimental Psychology 78: 679–684. doi:10.1037/h0026641. 
  7. ^ Waters, G.F. et al. (1992). "The role of high-level speech planning in rehearsal: Evidence from patients with apraxia of speech". Journal of Memory and Language 31: 54–73. doi:10.1016/0749-596X(92)90005-I. 
  8. ^ Baddeley, A.D.; Wilson, B.A. (1985). "Phonological coding and shortterm memory in patients without speech". Journal of Memory and Language 24: 490–502. doi:10.1016/0749-596X(85)90041-5. 
  9. ^ Stephen Madigan (1971). "Modality and Recall Order Interactions in Short-Term Memory for Serial Order". Journal of Experimental Psychology 87 (2): 294–296. doi:10.1037/h0030549. 
  10. ^ Catherine Penney (1975). "Modality Effects in Short-Term Verbal Memory". Psychological Bulletin 82 (1): 68–84. doi:10.1037/h0076166. 
  11. ^ Kent M. Dallett (1965). "Primary Memory: The effects of redundancy upon digit repetition". Psychonomic Science 3 (6): 237–238. doi:10.3758/bf03343114. 
  12. ^ Robert Green (1987). "Stimulus suffixes and visual presentation". Memory and Cognition 15 (6): 497–503. doi:10.3758/bf03198383. 
  13. ^ Lance C. Bloom, Michael J. Watkins (1999). "Two-Component Theory of the Suffix Effect: Contrary Findings". Journal of Experimental Psychology 25 (6): 1452–1474. doi:10.1037/0278-7393.25.6.1452. 
  14. ^ Baddeley, A.D. (2000). "The episodic buffer: A new component of working memory?". Trends in Cognitive Science 4 (11): 417–423. PMID 11058819. doi:10.1016/S1364-6613(00)01538-2. 
  15. ^ Logie, R.H. (1995). Visuo-spatial working memory, Hove, UK: Lawrence Eribaum Associates.
  16. ^ Klauer, K. C.; Zhao, Z. (2004). "Double dissociations in visual and spatial short-term memory". Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 133: 355–381. doi:10.1037/0096-3445.133.3.355. 
  17. ^ mentioned in:
  18. ^ Smith EE, Jonides J (June 1997). "Working memory: a view from neuroimaging". Cogn Psychol 33 (1): 5–42. PMID 9212720. doi:10.1006/cogp.1997.0658. 
  19. ^ Baddeley A (November 2000). "The episodic buffer: a new component of working memory?". Trends Cogn. Sci. (Regul. Ed.) 4 (11): 417–423. PMID 11058819. doi:10.1016/S1364-6613(00)01538-2. 
  20. ^ Baddeley A, Wilson BA (2002). "Prose recall and amnesia: implications for the structure of working memory". Neuropsychologia 40 (10): 1737–43. PMID 11992661. doi:10.1016/S0028-3932(01)00146-4. 
  21. ^ Sternberg, Robert J. (2007). Cognitive Psychology. WADSWORTH. pp. 205–206. 
  22. ^ Bates, Timothy C.; Luciano, Michelle; Medland, Sarah E.; Montgomery, Grant W.; Wright, Margaret J.; Martin, Nicholas G. (January 2011). "Genetic Variance in a Component of the Language Acquisition Device: ROBO1 Polymorphisms Associated with Phonological Buffer Deficits" (PDF). Behav. Genet. 41 (1): 50–7. PMID 20949370. doi:10.1007/s10519-010-9402-9. 
  23. ^ Jones, D. M.; Macken, W. J.; Nicholls, A. P. (2004). "The phonological store of working memory: is it phonological and is it a store?". Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 30: 656–674. doi:10.1037/0278-7393.30.3.656. 
  24. ^ Nairne, J. S. (2002). "Remembering over the short-term: The case against the standard model". Annual Review of Psychology 53: 53–81. PMID 11752479. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.53.100901.135131. 
  25. ^ Cognitive Psychology: A Student's Handbook :: 5th Edition: Chapter Topic


  • Baddeley, A.D.; Wilson, B. A. (2002). "Prose recall and amnesia: implications for the structure of working memory". Neuropsychologia 40 (10): 1737–1743. PMID 11992661. doi:10.1016/S0028-3932(01)00146-4. 
  • Baddeley, A.D. (2000). "The episodic buffer: a new component of working memory?". Trends in Cognitive Science 4: 417–423. PMID 11058819. doi:10.1016/S1364-6613(00)01538-2. 
  • Baddeley, A.D. (2007). Working memory, thought and action. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Baddeley, A.D.; Della Sala, S.; Robbins, T. W.; Baddeley, A. (1996). "Working memory and executive control.". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 351: 1397–1404. PMID 8941951. doi:10.1098/rstb.1996.0123. 
  • Baddeley, A.D., & Hitch, G. (1974). Working memory. In G.H. Bower (Ed.), The psychology of learning and motivation: Advances in research and theory (Vol. 8, pp. 47–89). New York: Academic Press.

See also