Forward scanning in verbal working memory updating

Yoav Kessler, Klaus Oberauer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Effective use of working memory (WM) for high-level cognitive tasks requires coordinating two conflicting requirements: robust maintenance and rapid updating. Models of WM suggest that these demands are coordinated by a gate between perceptual input and WM. Previous work with a letter-updating paradigm (Kessler & Oberauer, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 40, 738–754, 2014) supported a scanning and gate-switching (SGS) model of WM updating. The present work provides further evidence for the SGS model. Participants were required to keep track of the last letter that appeared in each of a row of frames on the screen. On each updating step, a variable subset of letters in varying positions in the row had to be updated. The SGS model assumes that on each updating step, participants scan through the memory set sequentially, opening the gate when a letter requires updating, and closing the gate when the next letter needs to be maintained. As is predicted by the SGS model, the reaction times for each updating step increased with the number of updated items and with the number of gate switches. In addition, the present experiment provides direct evidence supporting the scanning assumption of the model. Hebrew-speaking participants performed the task with either Hebrew or English letter stimuli, in different blocks. As was predicted, the scanning direction of the stimulus set was from left to right in English and from right to left in Hebrew. The SGS model fit the data only when the scanning direction was taken into account, establishing the role of item-based forward scanning during WM updating.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1770-1776
Number of pages7
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2015


  • Forward scanning
  • Gating
  • Updating
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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