Difference Between Working Memory and Short Term Memory

Key Difference – Working Memory vs Short Term Memory
 

Working memory and Short term memory are two terms that often confuse most people, although there is a key difference between the two. Memory has a very complex definition. Due to its complex nature memory is defined and described in different ways. Working memory and short-term memory are two terms that are used synonymously. But it is important to understand that they actually mean two different things. These two terms are mostly used in psychological studies and neuroscience.

What is Working Memory?

The term “working memory” was introduced by Miller, Galanter and Pribram in 1960. Working memory is a theoretical concept which is used in cognitive psychology and neuroscience. If working memory could be considered as a system, it is the system which holds transitory information and processes which allows this information to be manipulated. Some processes that working memory holds are reasoning and comprehension. The subsystems of working memory may hold verbal memories, visual memories and controllers that allow manipulation.

Sometimes working memory is used alternatively with the term short term memory. But these two are different. In fact, short-term memory is a part of working memory. In addition, working memory holds controllers which allow integration, disposal, and retrieval of short-term memory information. These processes are subjected to age. Therefore, working memory tends to decline with age. Several researchers have identified the parts of the brain such as frontal cortex, parietal cortex, anterior cingulate, and basal ganglia that are crucial for working memory’s functions.

Difference Between Working Memory and Short Term Memory

What is Short Term Memory?

Short term memory is a concept that was born with the conscious mind theories of Freudian psychology. It is also known by the names primary memory or active memory. Short term memory is the information that is stored in mind within few seconds to approximately 30 seconds. This is temporary. Most of the information is quickly forgotten, but if the information is rehearsed and used by some process, it can move into the deeper levels of mind known as long-term memory. Short-term memory capacity varies from person to person. Generally it can hold up to seven plus or minus two (5-9) elements. Short term memory is active and readily available to be used during a short duration. Short term memory is a part of the working memory.

Working Memory vs Short Term Memory

What is the difference between Working Memory and Short Term Memory?

Definitions of Working Memory and Short Term Memory:

Working Memory: Working memory is the system which comprises of short-term memory, and also the structures and processes which help in storing and manipulating information temporarily.

Short Term Memory: Short term memory is the temporary memory which is spanning in the range of few seconds.

Characteristics of Working Memory and Short Term Memory:

System:

Working Memory: Working memory is a system.

Short Term Memory: Short term memory is one of the subsystems of the working memory.

 

Image Courtesy:

1. “NIA human brain drawing” by National Institute for Aging, a branch of NIH.  [Public Domain] via Commons

2. “Sleeping while studying” by Psy3330 W10 – Own work. [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Commons