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Phonological Loop: Definition & Role in Working Memory

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  • 0:01 Working Memory Model
  • 1:09 The Other Three Components
  • 2:18 Phonological Loop
  • 3:38 Research on the…
  • 5:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Robin Harley

Robin has a PhD in health psychology. She has taught undergraduate and graduate psychology, health science, and health education.

Working memory temporarily holds and manipulates information. The phonological loop is one component of this model that helps us remember verbal information. This lesson will examine the function of this component and its subcomponents.

Working Memory Model

Think back to the last time someone told you a phone number, but you didn't have a pen to write it down. You probably went looking for one, but how did you keep from forgetting that number in the meantime? You might be thinking, 'that's my short-term memory at work,' and you'd be mostly correct. In the late 1960s, Richard Atkinson and Richard Shiffrin used the term short-term memory to describe this phenomenon. However, they defined it as only a simple, single storage space, and other researchers found this to be too simplified. In 1974, Alan Baddeley and Graham Hitch expanded on this idea, and used the term working memory instead. Working memory is a system that temporarily holds and manipulates information, so it is more than simple storage. Therefore, short-term memory is now mostly used conversationally.

Working memory is comprised of four components. These are the central executive and its subsystems: the phonological loop, the visuospatial sketchpad, and the episodic buffer. In this lesson, we will focus on the phonological loop, but it would be helpful to briefly examine the other components first, so you can see how everything works together.

The Other Three Components

The central executive is like the boss of a company. It coordinates and assigns work to its three subsystems. It also controls attention. For example, imagine you're driving down the road while having a conversation with your passenger. You see that the driver ahead of you slams on her brakes. You will likely dedicate your attention to this rather than the conversation, thanks to the central executive. However, like any boss, the central executive can only handle a limited amount of work, so it needs help from its subsystems. Let's briefly consider these subsystems.

The visuospatial sketchpad works with visual and spatial information. It helps you to remember the layouts of your bedroom, your apartment, and your city by displaying images in your mind from your long-term memory. For example, imagine that you want to refurnish your apartment, and you find a couch you like at the furniture store. The visuospatial sketchpad will allow you to conjure an image of that couch in your living room.

The episodic buffer is a storage system that integrates input from different sources. It draws information from what you sense, what's stored in your long-term memory, and the other working memory components. It then integrates and stores this information to help you perceive the world as a whole.

Phonological Loop

Now that you have an understanding of the other working memory components, let's focus on the phonological loop. It deals with acoustic information, like speech. It can also handle written words, but they must first be converted into speech in your mind. Let's go back to our phone number example. If someone verbally tells you a phone number, this is handled directly by the phonological loop. If you read the number, you'll convert those numbers to speech in your mind.

The phonological loop consists of two components, the phonological store and the articulatory control process, and each of these plays a different role in helping us to receive and rehearse acoustic input. The phonological store is associated with the perception of speech. It can be compared to an inner ear that receives and stores spoken words for up to two seconds. It holds the sounds of speech in the order in which they're heard. This information would decay quickly if we didn't actively refresh it.

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