What is working memory and how is it related to sport?

Working memory capacity is responsible for controlling attention in the face of interference. A good example of working memory in action is when we focus our attention on a conversation with a friend in a noisy bar. In this example, we are able to listen to the conversation without letting the background noise interfere with our attention.

A wealth of research in psychology has revealed that individual differences in working memory capacity influences the ability to perform a range of everyday cognitive tasks. Notably, individuals with a larger working memory capacity are typically better at solving problems and often have a higher IQ.

Individual differences in working memory capacity also influences sports performance. Phillip Furley and Daniel Memmert published an article in 2010 that detailed scenarios in sport where working memory is likely to be influential.

wm-in-sport

Extracted from Furley & Memmert (2010).

Information about some of these scenarios are detailed below.

Decision-making

Furley & Memmert (2012) showed that athletes with a larger working memory capacity made more accurate decisions when (a) a distracting noise was present or (b) the performer was required to resolve conflict when an incorrect instruction was provided

Skill acquisition / execution

When we consciously perform skills, we use working memory. The simplest example of this is when we attempt to implement coaching instructions when performing a skill.

Learning skills in a highly conscious manner is referred to as explicit learning. Some researchers argue that a highly conscious / explicit mode of learning is difficult for individuals with a comprised working memory.

Choking under pressure

A larger working memory capacity affords a greater ability to control attention whilst inhibiting distracting information (e.g., crowd noise). Indeed, a study in tennis revealed that players with a larger working memory capacity performed better in the decisive sets of matchplay. The decisive sets were considered to represent heightened pressure situations. Similar results were evident in a shooting task.

Why is knowledge of working memory beneficial to sport?

Understanding how a person’s working memory capacity influences performance and learning might facilitate the development of more individualised training programs. It also has implications for the delivery of instructions (i.e., the type and volume of instructions).

Note: 2 more reviews focusing on working memory in sport have been published since Furley and Memmert’s initial article in 2010 – see below.

Reference

Buszard, T., Masters, R. S., & Farrow, D. (2017). The generalizability of working-memory capacity in the sport domain. Current Opinion in Psychology, 16, 54-57.
Furley, P. A., & Memmert, D. (2010). The role of working memory in sport. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 3(2), 171-194.
Furley, P., & Wood, G. (2016). Working Memory, Attentional Control, and Expertise in Sports: A Review of Current Literature and Directions for Future Research. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition5(4), 415-425.

4 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Be Careful What You Instruct: Working Memory Capacity & Decision Making – skill acquisition research
  2. Working memory, dopamine responsiveness and winning decisive sets in tennis – skill acquisition research
  3. How does working memory influence performance under pressure? – skill acquisition research
  4. Learning complex movements improves cognitive abilities? – skill acquisition research

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: