A fixed capacity

The new findings and intriguing insights that were being uncovered about working memory were challenged by a bigger question: If it’s functioning poorly, can we do anything about it?

The answer to that question from the fields of medicine, psychiatry and psychology was a resounding “no.” Working memory was long understood to be a fixed characteristic – something you were born with that couldn’t change. The realization of this reality in the scientific community effectively killed the conversation that had grown up around the concept of working memory.

Dr. Sander Weckstein, a child and adolescent psychiatrist from Traverse City, Mich., witnessed the declining attention paid to working memory. “We didn’t really talk about working memory because the assumption was that if it was weak you can’t do anything about it,” he says. “It was an interesting concept and we could see that it was of central importance but if you don’t have a way to address it, does it even matter?”