Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Selective updating of sentences: Introducing a new measure of verbal working memory


Working memory (WM) is one of the most studied cognitive constructs in psychology, because of its relevance to human performance, including language processing. When measuring verbal WM for sentences, the reading span task is the most widely used WM measure for this purpose. However, comparable sentence-level updating tasks are missing. Hence, we sought to develop a WM updating task, which we termed the selective updating of sentences (SUS) task, which taps the ability to constantly update sentences. In two experiments with Finnish-speaking young adults, we examined the internal consistency and concurrent validity of the SUS task. It exhibited adequate internal consistency and correlated positively with well-established working memory measures. Moreover, the SUS task also showed positive correlations with verbal episodic memory tasks employing sentences and paragraphs. These results indicate that the SUS task is a promising new task for psycholinguistic studies addressing verbal WM updating.

Corresponding author
ADDRESS FOR CORRESPONDENCE Daniel Fellman, Department of Psychology, Abo Akademi University, Fabriksgatan 2, FIN-20500 Turku, Finland. E-mail:
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

M. Allen , W. Badecker , & L. Osterhout (2003). Morphological analysis in sentence processing: An ERP study. Language and Cognitive Processes, 18, 405430. doi:10.1080/01690960244000054

L. M. Archibald , & K. Harder Griebeling (2015). Rethinking the connection between working memory and language impairment. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 51, 252264. doi:10.1111/1460-6984.12202

L. M. Archibald , & M. F. Joanisse (2009). On the sensitivity and specificity of nonword repetition and sentence recall to language and memory impairments in children. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 52, 899914. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2009/08-0099)

A. Baddeley (2000). The episodic buffer: A new component of working memory? Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 4, 417423. doi:10.1016/S1364-6613(00)01538-2

A. Baddeley (2003). Working memory and language: An overview. Journal of Communication Disorders, 36, 189208. doi:10.1016/S0021-9924(03)00019-4

A. Baddeley , & G. Hitch (1974). Working memory. Psychology of Learning and Motivation, 8, 4789. doi:10.1016/S0079-7421(08)60452-1

R. Brener (1940). An experimental investigation of memory span. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 26, 467482. doi:10.1037/h0061096

B. Carretti , E. Borella , C. Cornoldi , & R. De Beni (2009). Role of working memory in explaining the performance of individuals with specific reading comprehension difficulties: A meta-analysis. Learning and Individual Differences, 19, 246251. doi:10.1016/j.lindif.2008.10.002

A. R. Conway , M. J. Kane , M. F. Bunting , D. Z. Hambrick , O. Wilhelm , & R. W. Engle (2005). Working memory span tasks: A methodological review and user's guide. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 12, 769786. doi:10.3758/BF03196772

M. J. Crump , J. V. McDonnell , & T. M. Gureckis (2013). Evaluating Amazon's Mechanical Turk as a tool for experimental behavioral research. PlOS ONE, 8, e57410. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0057410

M. Daneman , & P. M. Merikle (1996). Working memory and language comprehension: A meta-analysis. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 3, 422433. doi:10.3758/BF03214546

J. L. Earles , & A. W. Kersten (2000). Adult age differences in memory for verbs and nouns. Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition, 7, 130139. doi:10.1076/1382-5585(200006)7:2;1-U;FT130

U. K. Ecker , K. Oberauer , & S. Lewandowsky (2014). Working memory updating involves item-specific removal. Journal of Memory and Language, 74, 115. doi:10.1016/j.jml.2014.03.006

K. Enochson , & J. Culbertson (2015). Collecting psycholinguistic response time data using Amazon Mechanical Turk. PLOS ONE, 10, e0116946. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0116946

J. L. Foster , Z. Shipstead , T. L. Harrison , K. L. Hicks , T. S. Redick , & R. W. Engle (2015). Shortened complex span tasks can reliably measure working memory capacity. Memory & Cognition, 43, 226236. doi:10.3758/s13421-014-0461-7

N. P. Friedman , A. Miyake , R. P. Corley , S. E. Young , J. C. Defries , & J. K. Hewitt (2006). Not all executive functions are related to intelligence. Psychological Science, 17, 172179. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01681.x

C. Gonthier , N. Thomassin , & J. Roulin (2016). The composite complex span: French validation of a short working memory task. Behavior Research Methods, 48, 233242. doi:10.3758/s13428-015-0566-3

D. Z. Hambrick , F. L. Oswald , E. S. Darowski , T. A. Rench , & R. Brou (2010). Predictors of multitasking performance in a synthetic work paradigm. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24, 11491167. doi:10.1002/acp.1624

J. Holmes (2011). Baby brain: Training executive control in infancy. Current Biology, 21, R684R685. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2011.08.026

J. Holmes , & S. E. Gathercole (2014). Taking working memory training from the laboratory into schools. Educational Psychology, 34, 440450. doi:10.1080/01443410.2013.797338

C. Humphries , J. Binder , D. Medler , & E. Liebenthal (2006). Syntactic and semantic modulation of neural activity during auditory sentence comprehension. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 18, 665679. doi:10.1162/jocn.2006.18.4.665

J. Huttenlocher , & F. Lui (1979). The semantic organization of some simple nouns and verbs. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 18, 141162. doi:10.1016/S0022-5371(79)90091-4

M. J. Kane , L. H. Brown , J. C. McVay , P. J. Silvia , I. Myin-Germeys , & T. R. Kwapil (2007). For whom the mind wanders, and when: An experience-sampling study of working memory and executive control in daily life. Psychological Science, 18, 614621. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.01948.x

M. J. Kane , D. Z. Hambrick , S. W. Tuholski , O. Wilhelm , T. W. Payne , & R. W. Engle (2004). The generality of working memory capacity: A latent-variable approach to verbal and visuospatial memory span and reasoning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 133, 189217. doi:10.1037/0096-3445.133.2.189

M. Klem , M. Melby-Lervåg , B. Hagtvet , S. H. Lyster , J. Gustafsson , & C. Hulme (2015). Sentence repetition is a measure of children's language skills rather than working memory limitations. Developmental Science, 18, 146154. doi:10.1111/desc.12202

T. Klingberg (2010). Training and plasticity of working memory. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 14, 317324. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2010.05.002

R. P. Levy , & F. Keller (2013). Expectation and locality effects in German verb-final structures. Journal of Memory and Language, 68, 199222. doi:10.1016/j.jml.2012.02.005

R. Lewis , & S. Vasishth (2005). An activation-based model of sentence processing as skilled memory retrieval. Cognitive Science, 29, 375419. doi:10.1207/s15516709cog0000_25

R. Lewis , S. Vasishth , & J. Van Dyke (2006). Computational principles of working memory in sentence comprehension. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 10, 447454. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2006.08.007

C. Linnman , P. Carlbring , Å Åhman , H. Andersson , & G. Andersson (2006). The Stroop effect on the internet. Computers in Human Behavior, 22, 448455. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2004.09.010

M. C. MacDonald , & M. H. Christiansen (2002). Reassessing working memory: Comment on Just and Carpenter (1992) and Waters and Caplan (1996). Psychological Review, 109, 3554. doi:10.1037//0033-295X.109.1.35

R. Mason , & M. Just (2007). Lexical ambiguity in sentence comprehension. Brain Research, 1146, 115127. doi:10.1016/j.brainres.2007.02.076

B. McElree , S. Foraker , & L. Dyer (2003). Memory structures that subserve sentence comprehension. Journal of Memory and Language, 48, 6791. doi:10.1016/S0749-596X(02)00515-6

A. Miyake , N. P. Friedman , M. J. Emerson , A. H. Witzki , A. Howerter , & T. D. Wager (2000). The unity and diversity of executive functions and their contributions to complex “frontal lobe” tasks: A latent variable analysis. Cognitive Psychology, 41, 49100. doi:10.1006/cogp.1999.0734

A. Miyake , M. Just , & P. Carpenter (1994). Working memory constraints on the resolution of lexical ambiguity: Maintaining multiple interpretations in neutral contexts. Journal of Memory and Language, 33, 175202. doi:10.1006/jmla.1994.1009

N. Morris , & D. M. Jones (1990). Memory updating in working memory: The role of the central executive. British Journal of Psychology, 81, 111121. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8295.1990.tb02349.x

V. P. Murty , F. Sambataro , E. Radulescu , M. Altamura , J. Iudicello , B. Zoltick , . . . V. S. Mattay (2011). Selective updating of working memory content modulates meso-cortico-striatal activity. NeuroImage, 57, 12641272. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.05.006

B. Nicenboim , S. Vasishth , C. Gattei , M. Sigman , & R. Kliegl (2015). Working memory differences in long-distance dependency resolution. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 312. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00312

K. Oberauer , H. Süß , O. Wilhelm , & W. W. Wittman (2003). The multiple faces of working memory: Storage, processing, supervision, and coordination. Intelligence, 31, 167193. doi:10.1016/S0160-2896(02)00115-0

K. Oberauer , A. Weidenfeld , & R. Hörnig (2006). Working memory capacity and the construction of spatial mental models in comprehension and deductive reasoning. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 59, 426447. doi:10.1080/17470210500151717

P. Palladino , C. Cornoldi , R. De Beni , & F. Pazzaglia (2001). Working memory and updating processes in reading comprehension. Memory & Cognition, 29, 344354. doi:10.3758/BF03194929

B. R. Payne , S. Grison , X. Gao , K. Christianson , D. G. Morrow , & E. A. Stine-Morrow (2014). Aging and individual differences in binding during sentence understanding: Evidence from temporary and global syntactic attachment ambiguities. Cognition, 130, 157173. doi:10. 1016/j.cognition.2013.10.005

G. H. Poll , C. A. Miller , & J. G. van Hell (2016). Sentence repetition accuracy in adults with developmental language impairment: Interactions of participant capacities and sentence structures. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 59, 302316. doi:10.1044/2015_JSLHR-L-15-002

K. Rayner , & S. A. Duffy (1986). Lexical complexity and fixation times in reading: Effects of word frequency, verb complexity, and lexical ambiguity. Memory & Cognition, 14, 191201. doi:10.3758/BF03197692

T. S. Redick , J. M. Broadway , M. E. Meier , P. S. Kuriakose , N. Unsworth , M. J. Kane , & R. W. Engle (2012). Measuring working memory capacity with automated complex span tasks. European Journal of Psychological Assessment, 28, 164171. doi:10.1027/1015-5759/a000123

T. S. Redick , & D. R. Lindsey (2013). Complex span and n-back measures of working memory: A meta-analysis. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 20, 11021113. doi:10.3758/s13423-013-0453-9

N. G. Riches , T. Loucas , G. Baird , T. Charman , & E. Simonoff (2010). Sentence repetition in adolescents with specific language impairments and autism: An investigation of complex syntax. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 45, 4760. doi:10.3109/13682820802647676

J. Ricketts , R. Sperring , & K. Nation (2014). Educational attainment in poor comprehenders. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 445. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00445

S. J. Ritchie , & T. C. Bates (2013). Enduring links from childhood mathematics and reading achievement to adult socioeconomic status. Psychological Science, 24, 13011308. doi:10.1177/0956797612466268

C. A. Sanchez , & J. Wiley (2006). An examination of the seductive details effect in terms of working memory capacity. Memory & Cognition, 34, 344355. doi:10.3758/BF03193412

F. Schmiedek , M. Lövdén , & U. Lindenberger (2014). A task is a task is a task: Putting complex span, n-back, and other working memory indicators in psychometric context. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1475. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01475

Z. Shipstead , T. Redick , & R. Engle (2010). Does working memory training generalize? Psychologica Belgica, 50, 245276. doi:10.5334/pb-50-3-4-245

S. M. Smith , C. A. Roster , L. L. Golden , & G. S. Albaum (2016). A multi-group analysis of online survey respondent data quality: Comparing a regular USA consumer panel to MTurk samples. Journal of Business Research, 69, 31393148. doi:10.1016/j.jbusres.2015.12.002

O. Solopchuk , A. Alamia , E. Olivier , & A. Zenon (2016). Chunking improves symbolic sequence processing and relies on working memory gating mechanisms. Learning & Memory, 23, 108112. doi:10.1101/lm.041277.115

H. Süß , K. Oberauer , W. W. Wittmann , O. Wilhelm , & R. Schulze (2002). Working-memory capacity explains reasoning ability—And a little bit more. Intelligence, 30, 261288. doi:10.1016/S0160-2896(01)00100-3

M. L. Turner , & R. W. Engle (1989). Is working memory capacity task dependent? Journal of Memory and Language, 28, 127154. doi:10.1016/0749-596X(89)90040-5

N. Unsworth (2010). On the division of working memory and long-term memory and their relation to intelligence: A latent variable approach. Acta Psychologica, 134, 1628. doi:10.1016/j.actpsy. 2009.11.010

N. Unsworth , & R. W. Engle (2007). On the division of short-term and working memory: An examination of simple and complex span and their relation to higher order abilities. Psychological Bulletin, 133, 10381066. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.133.6.1038

N. Unsworth , R. P. Heitz , J. C. Schrock , & R. W. Engle (2005). An automated version of the operation span task. Behavior Research Methods, 37, 498505. doi:10.3758/BF03192720

O. Waris , A. Soveri , & M. Laine (2015). Transfer after working memory updating training. PLOS ONE, 10, e0138734. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0138734

C. A. Was , K. A. Rawson , H. Bailey , & J. Dunlosky (2011). Content-embedded tasks beat complex span for predicting comprehension. Behavior Research Methods, 43, 910915. doi:10.3758/s13428-011-0112-x

G. S. Waters , & D. Caplan (2003). The reliability and stability of verbal working memory measures. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, and Computers, 35, 550564. doi:10.3758/BF03195534

J. B. Wells , M. H. Christiansen , D. S. Race , D. J. Acheson , & M. C. MacDonald (2009). Experience and sentence processing: Statistical learning and relative clause comprehension. Cognitive Psychology, 58, 250271. doi:10.1016/j.cogpsych.2008.08.002

O. Wilhelm , A. Hildebrandt , & K. Oberauer (2013). What is working memory capacity, and how can we measure it. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 122. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00433

Y. Yu , T. H. FitzGerald , & K. J. Friston (2013). Working memory and anticipatory set modulate midbrain and putamen activity. Journal of Neuroscience, 33, 1404014047. doi:10.1523/jneurosci. 1176-13.2013

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Applied Psycholinguistics
  • ISSN: 0142-7164
  • EISSN: 1469-1817
  • URL: /core/journals/applied-psycholinguistics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 3
Total number of PDF views: 20 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 160 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 17th July 2017 - 20th August 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.