Executive Functions, Metacognition “Working memory holds working mental representations for us in ongoing cognitive activities.” Meta-working memory or meta-memory refers to the awareness of one’s working memory. The authors explore how meta-memory develops with age. The Importance of Working Memory Storage More accurate meta-memory has been associated with better learning since awareness of forgetting could […]23 Nov 2023
Developing an Awareness of Working Memory
February 27, 2023
Executive Functions, Metacognition
“Working memory holds working mental representations for us in ongoing cognitive activities.” Meta-working memory or meta-memory refers to the awareness of one’s working memory. The authors explore how meta-memory develops with age.
The Importance of Working Memory Storage
More accurate meta-memory has been associated with better learning since awareness of forgetting could allow a child to ask for repeated instructions. It could also contribute to “better mnemonic strategies, allocation of attention, and awareness of the limits of comprehension.”
It is also generally agreed that working memory storage is the key to cognitive development and essential to daily life through language use, problem-solving, and planning.
There are, however, limits to this information processing, and most adults can only keep between three to four separate visual items in mind. This memory capacity is typically lower in children, with preschoolers and early school-aged children retaining only about two items in mind.
The Connection Between Cognitive Capacity and Meta-Memory
The authors looked at the meta-memory of children between six and 14 years old, and adults. Participants were asked to remember an array of colored squares and indicate if an item was in the array. They reported how many items they thought they remembered and the authors compared these scores to their actual performance.
The results from the study suggest that both working memory and meta-memory improve with age. This could be because there are “increased resources and knowledge needed for meta-judgments” and children may forget to take into account forgetting processes, and be less adept at understanding the task or prompt.
Even though children have a lower working memory capacity, average meta-memory ratings were similar across age groups, around three to four items, suggesting a general limitation in human information processing systems. Adults also on average tended to overestimate their capabilities. There was also evidence that higher cognitive capacity (working memory) was associated with more accurate meta-memory.
“More accurate meta-memory insight has been associated with better learning (Balcomb & Gerken, 2008; Garner, 1987; Schneider & Pressley, 1989), including better mnemonic strategies, allocation of attention, and awareness of the limits of comprehension (Schraw, 2001).”
“…the developmental literature on meta-memory suggests that children do not understand their own long-term memory and tend to think they will not forget.”
“Metacognitive ability appears to be positively related to memory performance.”
Working memory allows us to store and manipulate information, making it an integral part of success in academic and daily life. As an educator is it key to plan and delivery content with the understanding that the average human can only store on average three items, and that this number would decrease with age. Many disabilities also impact working memory. Helping students develop strong meta-memory skills could also be a way to bridge this gap. Being aware of one’s memory and being able to reflect on what you can remember could help with many tasks. For example, a student realizing they do not remember the task instructions could ask a teacher to repeat them.—Ayla Reau
Forsberg, A., Blume, C. L., & Cowan, N. (2021). The development of metacognitive accuracy in working memory across childhood. Developmental Psychology, 57(8), 1297–1317. https://doi.org/10.1037/dev0001213