Learning and transfer of working memory gating policies

Cognition. 2018 Mar;172:89-100. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2017.12.001. Epub 2017 Dec 12.


knowledge about the tasks we encounter enables us to rapidly and flexibly adapt to novel task contexts. Previous research has focused primarily on abstract rules that leverage shared structure in stimulus-response (S-R) mappings as the basis of such task knowledge. Here we provide evidence that working memory (WM) gating policies - a type of control policy required for internal control of WM during a task - constitute a form of abstract task knowledge that can be transferred across contexts. In two experiments, we report specific evidence for the transfer of selective WM gating policies across changes of task context. We show that this transfer is not tied to shared structure in S-R mappings, but instead in the dynamic structure of the task. Collectively, our results highlight the importance of WM gating policies in particular, and control policies in general, as a key component of the task knowledge that supports flexible behavior and task generalization.

Keywords: Cognitive control; Gating; Generalization; Transfer; Working memory.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Generalization, Psychological / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Transfer, Psychology / physiology*
  • Young Adult