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Working memory and working attention: What could possibly evolve?

By Charles Philip Beaman


The concept of “working” memory is traceable back to nineteenth century theorists (Baldwin, 1894; James 1890) but the term itself was not used until the mid-twentieth century (Miller, Galanter & Pribram, 1960). A variety of different explanatory constructs have since evolved which all make use of the working memory label (Miyake & Shah, 1999). This history is briefly reviewed and alternative formulations of working memory (as language-processor, executive attention, and global workspace) are considered as potential mechanisms for cognitive change within and between individuals and between species. A means, derived from the literature on human problem-solving (Newell & Simon, 1972), of tracing memory and computational demands across a single task is described and applied to two specific examples of tool-use by chimpanzees and early hominids. The examples show how specific proposals for necessary and/or sufficient computational and memory requirements can be more rigorously assessed on a task by task basis. General difficulties in connecting cognitive theories (arising from the observed capabilities of individuals deprived of material support) with archaeological data (primarily remnants of material culture) are discussed

Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Year: 2010
OAI identifier: oai:centaur.reading.ac.uk:5754

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