The Hard Fall Effect: High Working Memory Capacity Leads to a Higher, But Less Robust Short-Term Memory Performance

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Abstract

Participants with a high working memory span tend to perform better than low spans in a variety of tasks. However, their performance is paradoxically more impaired when they have to perform two tasks at once, a phenomenon that could be labeled the “hard fall effect.” The present study tested whether this effect exists in a short-term memory task, and investigated the proposal that the effect is due to high spans using efficient facilitative strategies under simple task conditions. Ninety-eight participants performed a spatial short-term memory task under simple and dual task conditions; stimuli presentation times either allowed for the use of complex facilitative strategies or not. High spans outperformed low spans only under simple task conditions when presentation times allowed for the use of facilitative strategies. These results indicate that the hard fall effect exists on a short-term memory task and may be caused by individual differences in strategy use.

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