Working Memory

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Definition:

Your working memory is a system in your brain that allows you to temporarily retain and manipulate the information involved in complex processes. These processes include language comprehension, reasoning, and learning new information. It's a part of your short-term memory.

Working memory deals with information you need to "work" with, such as step-by-step instructions, the things you need at the store, or a problem you're trying to solve.

It also deals with how well you pay attention to things, your ability to manipulate visual input, and some processes involved in learning vocabulary.

Working memory also processes information retrieved from long-term memory while you're working with it. For example, if you're making dinner and you want your broiled chicken to be done at the same time as a side dish, you may pull broiling times from long-term memory then look at the side-dish recipe to see when you need to start them relative to each other.

Your working memory has a limited capacity. The average person can store about 7 items in their working memory and hold onto them for about 18 seconds. Certain techniques, such as repeating information over and over, can help it stay longer in working memory. Children typically have a lower capacity, as can adults with working-memory impairment due to illness.

People with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome are believed to have an impairment of their working memory.

This symptom is often described by the umbrella terms "fibro fog" or "brain fog," which are used to describe the full range of cognitive dysfunction linked to the conditions.

This impairment may help account for problems with reading comprehension, learning new information, following step-by-step directions, and forgetting things like what you went to the kitchen to do.

These are all common cognitive complaints from people with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Working memory is a system of active focus used by the brain, not a specific location in the brain where information is stored.

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Examples: Her working-memory impairment made it nearly impossible for her to follow her professor's instructions in the biology lab.

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