A Capacity Theory of Comprehension: Individual Differences in Working Memory

17146 Words69 Pages
Psychological Review 1992, Vol. 99, No. 1,122-149

Copyright 1992 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 0033-295X/92/J3.00

A Capacity Theory of Comprehension: Individual Differences in Working Memory
Marcel Adam Just and Patricia A. Carpenter Carnegie Mellon University
A theory of the way working memory capacity constrains comprehension is proposed. The theory proposes that both processing and storage are mediated by activation and that the total amount of activation available in working memory varies among individuals. Individual differences in working memory capacity for language can account for qualitative and quantitative differences among college-age adults in several aspects of language comprehension. One aspect is
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A related function attributed to short-term memory is its role as a stepping stone on the path to long-term memory, while information is being memorized through rehearsal or elaboration. Thus, working memory has long been implicated in both short-term and long-term storage. A somewhat more modern view of working memory takes into account not just the storage of items for later retrieval, but also the storage of partial results in complex sequential computations, such as language comprehension. The storage requirements at the lexical level during comprehension are intuitively obvious. A listener or comprehender must be able to quickly retrieve some representation of earlier words and phrases in a sentence to relate them to later words and phrases. But storage demands also occur at several other levels of processing. The comprehender must also store the theme of the text, the representation of the situation to which it refers, the major propositions from preceding sentences, and a running, multilevel representation of the sentence that is currently being read (Kintsch & vanDijk, 1978; vanDijk & Kintsch, 1983). Thus, language comprehension is an excellent example of a task that demands extensive storage of partial and final products in the service of complex information processing. Most recent conceptions of working memory extend its function beyond storage to encompass the actual computations
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