Neural Basis of Limited Working Memory Capacity

Working memory is our ability to hold things 'in mind'. This active maintenance of information provides the workspace for complex, cognitive, behaviors -- allowing one to manipulate information towards a goal. Despite being fundamental to cognitive processes, working memory has a surprisingly limited capacity -- you can only hold ~4 items in mind at a time. Each person's capacity is different and is related to their ‘general intelligence’. At a basic level this makes sense – if you can hold more information in mind then you should be able to combine more things together in interesting ways. While the limited capacity of working memory is well characterized, there is little known about the underlying biological reasons for this limitation. This project aims to understand these reasons: what is it about neurons in the brain, or the way they represent information, that gives rise to our limited capacity?

Project Members


Neural substrates of cognitive capacity limitations. Buschman, Siegel, Roy, Miller, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2011