Working memory capacity and the scope and control of attention

Zach Shipstead, Tyler L. Harrison, Randall W. Engle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

102 Scopus citations


Complex span and visual arrays are two common measures of working memory capacity that are respectively treated as measures of attention control and storage capacity. A recent analysis of these tasks concluded that (1) complex span performance has a relatively stronger relationship to fluid intelligence and (2) this is due to the requirement that people engage control processes while performing this task. The present study examines the validity of these conclusions by examining two large data sets that include a more diverse set of visual arrays tasks and several measures of attention control. We conclude that complex span and visual arrays account for similar amounts of variance in fluid intelligence. The disparity relative to the earlier analysis is attributed to the present study involving a more complete measure of the latent ability underlying the performance of visual arrays. Moreover, we find that both types of working memory task have strong relationships to attention control. This indicates that the ability to engage attention in a controlled manner is a critical aspect of working memory capacity, regardless of the type of task that is used to measure this construct.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1863-1880
Number of pages18
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015


  • Attention control
  • Fluid intelligence
  • Maintenance
  • Storage
  • Working memory capacity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Sensory Systems
  • Linguistics and Language


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