Visual working memory capacity: from psychophysics and neurobiology to individual differences

Trends Cogn Sci. 2013 Aug;17(8):391-400. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2013.06.006. Epub 2013 Jul 11.


Visual working memory capacity is of great interest because it is strongly correlated with overall cognitive ability, can be understood at the level of neural circuits, and is easily measured. Recent studies have shown that capacity influences tasks ranging from saccade targeting to analogical reasoning. A debate has arisen over whether capacity is constrained by a limited number of discrete representations or by an infinitely divisible resource, but the empirical evidence and neural network models currently favor a discrete item limit. Capacity differs markedly across individuals and groups, and recent research indicates that some of these differences reflect true differences in storage capacity whereas others reflect variations in the ability to use memory capacity efficiently.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Individuality*
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Neurobiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychophysics*
  • Visual Pathways / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology*