Working memory


Working memory, the ability to simultaneously process and store information for short periods of time, supports learning (Holmes et al., 2006; 2008; 2010; 2014). Children with poor working memory typically struggle at school (Gathercole et al, 2008; Gathercole et al., 2014), and deficits in working memory are common in children with a range of developmental disorders (e.g. Holmes et al. 2014).


Our group has shown that one of the biggest challenges for children with poor working memory in the classroom is following multi-step instructions.  Our work has revealed that instruction-following places heavy demands on verbal working memory (Jaroslawska et al., 2016a), and that breaking both classroom management and task-oriented instruction sequences into smaller steps can help children (Elliott et al., 2010). Work led by one of our former PhD students, Dr Agnieszka Jaroslawska, has shown that children’s performance can also be improved through physical action (Jaroslawska et al., 2016b; Tang et al., 2017; Waterman et al., 2017). Theoretically, these findings suggest there may be a temporary store for motoric information in working memory (Jaroslawska et al., 2018). From a practical perspective, they provide a way to support struggling learners in the classroom (Waterman et al., 2017).


We have been investigating ways to improve working memory (link to Cognitive Enhancement), and to improve learning in children with working memory difficulties by training teachers to reduce working memory loads in the classroom (Elliott et al., 2010).



Agnieszka Jaroslawska

Susan Gathercole

Richard Allen

Amanda Waterman

Get in touch

If you'd like to know more about our work then please get in touch

MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit,

15 Chaucer Road,



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