Baddeley's Model of Working Memory

Instructor: Emily Cummins

Emily Cummins received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and French Literature and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Sociology. She has instructor experience at Northeastern University and New Mexico State University, teaching courses on Sociology, Anthropology, Social Research Methods, Social Inequality, and Statistics for Social Research.

In this lesson, we'll talk about the British psychologist Alan Baddeley's model of working memory, which seeks to explain how we store quick and fleeting memories. We'll talk about each component of this four-part system. Updated: 04/05/2021

Alan Baddeley

How do we remember the color of the shirt a stranger who passed us by was wearing? Or the model of the car in front of us as we're driving? These memories are examples of what is typically known as short-term memories.

Psychologists have long been interested in how memory works - why we remember some things and not others, for example-- and the British psychologist Alan Baddeley is no exception.

Baddeley is known particularly for his work on short-term memory, or these memories we make that quickly fade if we don't practice them. In this lesson, we'll go over the model that Baddeley developed to explain how we store and process short-term memories (also called working memories). But first, we should talk about what we mean by 'working memory'.

What Is Working Memory?

Working memory is basically a kind of memory that we're currently forming, but that may not last very long, especially if we don't practice it or 'rehearse' it. So, as you're reading these sentences, you're likely forming a working memory of them but you won't remember them word-for-word in the long term (if you don't repeat them to yourself).

Working memory is similar to short-term memory, which is the part of our memory that stores a limited number of items, which are really only accessible to us typically for a some seconds, on average.

Baddeley was interested in figuring out how all of these quick memories are processed so he came up with a model to explain it. Let's talk about that in more detail now.

Baddeley's Model of Working Memory

Baddeley's model argues that working memory is like a multi-part system, and each system is responsible for a different function. Each part is only able to processes so much and the components of this system, according to Baddeley, function more or less independently of one another. The model has four major components that we'll discuss now.

The Baddeley model of working memory
working memory; Baddeley

Phonological Loop

The first piece of the model is known as the phonological loop. This is the part of the system that processes spoken language, or information we get from speech. This is also how we process things like arithmetic problems, new vocabulary words, or an address we see written down.

Basically, the phonological loop is all about written and spoken information. The word 'phonology' refers to the branch of linguistics that deals with how words and sounds are organized in language, so that's one way to remember what this component does.

Now, the phonological loop actually has two parts. It consists of:

  • thephonological store, which is a fancy term for your inner ear. This is the part that stores information based on speech for one or two seconds. When someone tells you something, you are perceiving it with the phonological store.
  • the articulatory control process is a fancy way of saying inner voice. Basically, this component interprets and rehearses the information from the phonological store. When you say something, the articulatory control process is producing the words.

Visuospatial Sketchpad

The second piece of the system is the visuospatial sketchpad, which you might have already figured out is all about visual and spatial information! So, this is basically how we store objects and images.

If you're standing in your living room and looking at a painting, the visuospatial sketchpad is responsible for your ability to store the image of the painting as well as its placement on the wall. Another way to think about this is as our inner eye.

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