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Basic Mechanisms of Working Memory and Cognitive Control

Training Working Memory and Cognitive Control

The Development of Cognitive Control and its Impact on Adolescent Decision-Making


Working memory is often described as the mental workspace in which we maintain, update, and manipulate information in the service of ongoing cognitive performance. The mental machinery for working memory also plays an important role in supporting cognitive control (aka executive functioning), through which we flexibly select goal-appropriate behaviors while inhibiting interference from sources of response competition and distraction. Our lab uses traditional experimental and cognitive neuroscientific methods to delineate the specific processes that underlie working memory and cognitive control, and to adjudicate between alternative theoretical models relating to these constructs. We also explore the relationship between working memory and cognitive control, and the involvement of these capacities in the broader landscape of higher-order cognition (e.g., problem solving, decision-making, language, etc).

Recent Articles...

Chein, J. & Schneider, W. (2012). The brain's learning and control architecture. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 21(2), 78-84.

Eagan, D.E. & Chein, J.M., (2012). Overlap of phonetic features as a determinant of the between-stream phonological similarity effect. Journal of Experimental Psychology; Learning Memory & Cognition, 38(2):473-81.

Berryhill, M.E., Chein, J.M., & Olson, I.R. (2011). At the intersection of attention and memory: the mechanistic role of the posterior parietal lobe in working memory. Neuropsychologia, 49(5), 1306-1315. ( PDF )

Chein, J.M., Moore, A.B., & Conway, A.R.A. (2011). Domain general mechanisms of complex working memory span. Neuroimage, 54, 550-559. ( PDF )

Chein, J.M., Weisberg, R.W., Streeter, N., & Kwok, S. (2010). Working memory and insight in the 9-dot problem. Memory & Cognition, 38(7), 883-892. ( PDF )

Chein, J.M., & Fiez, J.A. (2010). Evaluating models of working memory: FMRI and behavioral evidence on the effects of concurrent irrelevant information. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 139(1), 117-137.

Temple Collaborators: Ingrid Olson, Robert Weisberg. Outside Collaborators: Walter Schneider, U. Pittsburgh, Julie Fiez, U. Pittsburgh, Andrew Conway, Princeton University


An exciting new area of research concerns the ability to improve general cognitive functioning by increasing the capacity of working memory and the ability to control the focus of one's attention. While historical research suggests that people tend to improve only on the very specific tasks that they practice, there is mounting evidence that repeated working memory and attention control "workouts" can produce more far reaching, and generalizable, gains. In the lab we have developed novel, theory-driven, techniques for training these central cognitive faculties, and we are currently investigating the efficacy and scope of generalization from different forms of training.

Recent Articles...

Morrison, A. & Chein, J.M. (2012). The controversy over Cogmed. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition. 1(3), 208-210.

Richmond, L., Morrison, A., Chein, J., & Olson, I. (2011). Complex working memory span training in older adults. Psychology and Aging, 26(4):813-22.

Morrison, A.B. & Chein, J.M. (2011). Does working memory training work? The promise and challenges of enhancing cognition by training working memory. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 18(1), 46-60.( PDF )

Chein, J.M. & Morrison, A.B. (2010). Expanding the mind's workspace: Training and transfer effects with a complex working memory span task. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 17(2), 193-199.( PDF )

Temple Collaborators: Ingrid Olson, Tim Shipley, Nora Newcombe


As people mature from pre-adolescence into adulthood the brain systems that support working memory and cognitive control undergo important changes. These changes result in behavioral improvements in the ability to control impulses and to behave in a deliberative, goal-directed manner. Around the time of puberty, brain regions that process emotions and rewards (affective processing) also undergo substantial reorganization, causing changes in the way that emotionally arousing and potentially rewarding events are perceived. Our lab investigates how the asynchronous development of cognitive control and affective processing impacts the mental calculus of decision making, with a particular focus on how psychosocial context affects the interaction between these systems.

Recent Articles...

Albert, D., Chein, J., & Steinberg, L. (in press). Peer Influences on Adolescent Neurocognition. Current Directions in Psychological Science.

O'brien, L., Albert, D., Chein, J.M., & Steinberg, L. (2011). Adolescents prefer more immediate rewards when in the presence of their peers. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 21(4), 747-753.

Chein, J., Albert, D., O'Brien, L., Uckert, U., & Steinberg, L. (2011). Peers influence adolescent risk-taking by heightening sensitivity to reward. Developmental Science, 14(2), F1-F10.

Temple Collaborators: Laurence Steinberg

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