Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation
Psychological and Brain Sciences
Experimental Psychology, PhD
Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)
working memory; cognitive flexibility; attention; problem solving; mental set
Cognitive flexibility is a hallmark of individuals with higher working memory capacity (WMC). Yet, research demonstrates that higher WMC individuals are sometimes more likely to adopt rigid problem-solving approaches. The present research examines a novel account for these contradictory findings—that different WMC mechanisms interact in ways that both support and constrain cognitive flexibility. Across three studies, participants completed the water jug task—a problem-solving task requiring them to first establish and then break mental set using a complex strategy. Participants then completed measures targeting three WMC mechanisms: attention control, primary memory, and secondary memory. Study 1 demonstrated that primary memory and secondary memory predict breaking mental set in opposite directions. Study 2 replicated these findings while also demonstrating that attention control moderates these effects. Study 3 replicated these results using a less restrictive sampling procedure (i.e., participants were provided the complex strategy). The present research supports the proposed theory of functional opponency in WMC.
Van Stockum, Charles A. Jr., "Functional opponency in working memory capacity predicts cognitive flexibility in problem solving." (2019). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. Paper 3277.