Working memory capacity and retrieval from long-term memory: The role of controlled search

Nash Unsworth, Gene Brewer, Gregory J. Spillers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Scopus citations


In two experiments, the role of working memory capacity (WMC) in the controlled search of long-term memory was examined. Participants performed a prolonged category fluency task that required them to retrieve as many animals as possible in 5 min. The results suggested that WMC differences arose in the numbers of animals retrieved, the numbers of clusters retrieved, and the rates of the retrieval (Exp. 1). However, no differences were found in terms of how participants initiated retrieval or in the nature of the clusters generated. Furthermore, an examination of differences in retrieval strategies suggested that high-WMC individuals were more strategic than low-WMC individuals and that these differences in retrieval strategies accounted for the overall differences in the numbers of animals retrieved. Additionally, presenting participants with retrieval cues eliminated WMC differences in the numbers of animals retrieved (Exp. 2). These results suggest that low-WMC individuals are less able than high-WMC individuals to select and utilize appropriate retrieval strategies to self-generate cues to access information in long-term memory. Collectively, the results are consistent with research suggesting that WMC is important for controlled search from long-term memory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)242-254
Number of pages13
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2013


  • Individual differences
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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