Following instructions in a dual-task paradigm: Evidence for a temporary motor store in working memory.

19 Apr 2018

Evidence from dual-task studies suggests that working memory supports the retention and implementation of verbal instructions. One key finding that is not readily accommodated by existing models of working memory is that participants are consistently more accurate at physically performing rather than verbally repeating a sequence of commands. This action advantage has no obvious source within the multi-component model of working memory and has been proposed to be driven by an as yet undetected limited-capacity store dedicated to the temporary maintenance of spatial, motoric, and temporal features of intended movements. To test this hypothesis, we sought to selectively disrupt the action advantage with concurrent motor suppression. In three dual-task experiments, young adults' immediate memory for sequences of spoken instructions was assessed by both action-based and spoken recall. In addition to classic interference tasks known to tax the phonological loop and central executive, motor suppression tasks designed to impair the encoding and retention of motoric representations were included. These required participants to produce repetitive sequences of either fine motor gestures (Experiment 1, N = 16) or more basic ones (Experiments 2, N = 16, and 3, N = 16). The benefit of action-based recall was reduced following the production of basic gestures but remained intact under all other interference conditions. These results suggest that the mnemonic advantage of enacted recall depends on a cognitive system dedicated to the temporary maintenance of motoric representations of planned action sequences.