Working memory does not dissociate between different perceptual categorization tasks

Stephan Lewandowsky, Lee Xieng Yang, Ben R. Newell, Michael L. Kalish

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Working memory is crucial for many higher level cognitive functions, ranging from mental arithmetic to reasoning and problem solving. Likewise, the ability to learn and categorize novel concepts forms an indispensable part of human cognition. However, very little is known about the relationship between working memory and categorization. This article reports 2 studies that related people's working memory capacity (WMC) to their learning performance on multiple rule-based and information-integration perceptual categorization tasks. In both studies, structural equation modeling revealed a strong relationship between WMC and category learning irrespective of the requirement to integrate information across multiple perceptual dimensions. WMC was also uniformly related to people's ability to focus on the most task-appropriate strategy, regardless of whether or not that strategy involved information integration. Contrary to the predictions of the multiple systems view of categorization, working memory thus appears to underpin performance in both major classes of perceptual category-learning tasks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)881-904
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Category learning
  • Multiple memory systems
  • Perceptual categorization
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language


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