Domain Disparity: Informing the Debate between Domain-General and Domain-Specific Information Processing in Working Memory. Open Access
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Working memory is a collection of cognitive resources that allow for the temporary maintenance and manipulation of information. This information can then be used to accomplish task goals in a variety of different contexts. To do this, the working memory system is able to process many different kinds of information using resources dedicated to the processing of those specific types of information. This processing is modulated by a control component which is responsible for guiding actions in the face of interference. Recently, the way in which working memory handles the processing of this information has been the subject of debate. Specifically, current models of working memory differ in their conceptualization of its functional architecture and the interaction between domain-specific storage structures and domain-general control processes. Here, domain-specific processing is when certain components of a model are dedicated to processing certain kinds of information, be it spatial or verbal. Domain-general processing is a when a component of a model can process multiple kinds of information. One approach conceptualizes working memory as consisting of various discrete components that are dedicated to processing specific kinds of information. These multiple component models attempt to explain how domain-specific storage structures are coordinated by a domain-general control mechanism. They also predict that capacity variations in those domain-specific storage structures can directly affect the performance of the domain-general control mechanism. Another approach focuses primarily on the contributions of a domain-general control mechanism to behavior. These controlled attention approaches collapse working memory and attention and propose that a domain-general control mechanism is the primary source of individual differences. This means that variations in domain-specific storage structures are not predicted to affect the functioning of the domain-general control mechanism. This dissertation will make the argument that conceptualizing working memory as either domain-specific or domain-general creates a false dichotomy. To do this, different ways of measuring working memory capacity will first be discussed. That discussion will serve as a basis for understanding the differences, and similarities between both models. A more detailed exposition of both the multiple component model and controlled attention account will follow. Behavioral and physiological evidence will accompany the descriptions of both models. The emphasis of the evidence presented here will be on load effects: observed changes in task performance when information is maintained in working memory. Load effects can be specific to the type of information being maintained (domain-specific), or occur regardless of information type (domain-general). This dissertation will demonstrate how the two models fail to address evidence for both domain-specific and domain-general load effects. Given these inadequacies, a new set of experiments will be proposed that will seek to demonstrate both domain-specific and domain-general effects within the same paradigm. Being able to demonstrate both these effects will go some way towards accounting for the differing evidence presented in the literature. A brief conceptualization of a possible account to explain these effects will then be discussed. Finally, future directions for research will be described.