Cognitive Control of Working Memory: A Model-Based Approach

Brain Sci. 2021 May 28;11(6):721. doi: 10.3390/brainsci11060721.


Working memory (WM)-based decision making depends on a number of cognitive control processes that control the flow of information into and out of WM and ensure that only relevant information is held active in WM's limited-capacity store. Although necessary for successful decision making, recent work has shown that these control processes impose performance costs on both the speed and accuracy of WM-based decisions. Using the reference-back task as a benchmark measure of WM control, we conducted evidence accumulation modeling to test several competing explanations for six benchmark empirical performance costs. Costs were driven by a combination of processes, running outside of the decision stage (longer non-decision time) and showing the inhibition of the prepotent response (lower drift rates) in trials requiring WM control. Individuals also set more cautious response thresholds when expecting to update WM with new information versus maintain existing information. We discuss the promise of this approach for understanding cognitive control in WM-based decision making.

Keywords: cognitive control; diffusion decision model; reference-back task; sequential sampling; working memory.