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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...

Morrison, A., Conway, A., & Chein, J. (2014). Primacy and Recency Effects as Indices of the Focus of Attention. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 24(8), 6. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00006.

Chein, J.M., & Weisberg, R.W. (2013). Working memory, insight, and restructuring in verbal problems: Analysis of compound remote associate problems. Memory & Cognition. doi:10.3758/s13421-013-0343-4.

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 )

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...

Richmond, L., Wolk, D., Chein, J., Olson, I. (2014). Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) Enhances Verbal Working Memory Performance Over Time and Near Transfer Outcomes. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 26(11), 2443-2454.

Blacker, K., Curby, K., Klobusicky, E., & Chein, J. (2014). The Effects of Action Video Game Training on Visual Working Memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance.

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.

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...

Steinberg, L., & Chein, J. M. (2015). Multiple accounts of adolescent impulsivity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(29), 8807-8808.

Smith, A., Chein, J., & Steinberg, L. (2014). Peers increase adolescent risk taking even when the probabilities of negative outcomes are known. Developmental Psychology, 50(5),1564-8. doi: 10.1037/a0035696.

Weigard, A., Chein, J., Smith, A., Albert, D., & Steinberg, L. (2013). Effects of Anonymous Peer Observation on Adolescents' Preference for Immediate Rewards. Developmental Science. Developmental Science, 17(1), 71-78.

Strang, N., Chein, J, & Steinberg, L.(2013). The value of the dual systems model of adolescent risk-taking. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 7:223. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2013.00223 ( PDF )

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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