The Stability of Working Memory: Do Previous Tasks Influence Complex Span?

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Schmeichel (2007) reported that performing an initial task before completing a working memory span task can lower span scores and suggested that the effect was due to depleted cognitive resources. We showed that the detrimental effect of prior tasks depends on a match between the stimuli used in the span task and the preceding task. A task requiring participants to ignore words reduced performance on a subsequent word-based verbal span task but not on an arrow-based spatial span task. Ignoring arrows had the opposite pattern of effects: reducing performance on the spatial span task but not on the word-based span task. Finally, we showed that antisaccade, a nonverbal task that taxes domain-general processes implicated in working memory, did not influence subsequent performance of either a verbal or a spatial span task. Together these results suggest that while span is sensitive to prior tasks, that sensitivity does not stem from depleted resources.

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