People with a high working-memory capacity are less likely to be sidetracked, according to a study from the University of Oregon. That’s because working memory, or short-term memory, directly correlates with one’s processing abilities. Principal study investigator and UO professor of psychology, Edward Vogel, compares a person’s working memory to a computer’s random-access memory (RAM). The more RAM people have, Vogel says, the better they are at focusing and completing complex tasks.
Vogel’s theory is based on his study of 84 students. In one test, Vogel asked students to identify objects—shapes missing components—on a computer screen in various stages. The first stage was simply the object. The second stage was the object presented and then relocated immediately on the screen. The final stage was the object presented amid distractions. Vogel monitored the students’ brain activity and found that while all of the students were able to identify the object alone or when it moved on the screen, some students maintained accuracy while others slipped in performance when the objects were presented amid distractions.
If your working-memory capacity is low, Vogel suggests employing someone to help process information for you—a gatekeeper or informational bouncer. That way the most important information is initially presented to you instead of you trying to sort through and remember data.