Working memory capacity and retrieval limitations from long-term memory: An examination of differences in accessibility

Nash Unsworth, Gregory J. Spillers, Gene Brewer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


In two experiments, the locus of individual differences in working memory capacity and long-term memory recall was examined. Participants performed categorical cued and free recall tasks, and individual differences in the dynamics of recall were interpreted in terms of a hierarchical-search framework. The results from this study are in accordance with recent theorizing suggesting a strong relation between working memory capacity and retrieval from long-term memory. Furthermore, the results also indicate that individual differences in categorical recall are partially due to differences in accessibility. In terms of accessibility of target information, two important factors drive the difference between high- and low-working-memory-capacity participants. Low-working-memory-capacity participants fail to utilize appropriate retrieval strategies to access cues, and they also have difficulty resolving cue overload. Thus, when low-working-memory-capacity participants were given specific cues that activated a smaller set of potential targets, their recall performance was the same as that of high-working-memory-capacity participants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2397-2410
Number of pages14
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2012


  • Individual differences
  • Retrieval
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychology(all)
  • Physiology (medical)


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