Complex cognitive tasks such as multiple-step arithmetic entail strategies for coordinating mental processes such as calculation with processes for managing working memory (WM). Such strategies must be sensitive to factors such as the time needed for calculation. In 2 experiments we tested whether people can learn the timing constraints on WM demands when those constraints are implicitly imposed. We varied the retention period for intermediate results using the well-known digit size effect: The larger the operands, the longer it takes to perform addition. During learning participants practiced multiple-step arithmetic routines combined with large or small digits. At transfer, they performed both practiced and novel combinations. Practice performance was affected by digit size and WM demands. However, the transfer performance was not fully explained by the digit size effect or the practice effect. We argue that participants acquired temporal tuning of the WM strategy to the implicit retention interval imposed by the digit size and kept using the tuning mode to unpracticed data set.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)