The scope and control of attention as separate aspects of working memory

Zach Shipstead, Thomas S. Redick, Kenny L. Hicks, Randall W. Engle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


The present study examines two varieties of working memory (WM) capacity task: visual arrays (i.e., a measure of the amount of information that can be maintained in working memory) and complex span (i.e., a task that taps WM-related attentional control). Using previously collected data sets we employ confirmatory factor analysis to demonstrate that visual arrays and complex span tasks load on separate, but correlated, factors. A subsequent series of structural equation models and regression analyses demonstrate that these factors contribute both common and unique variance to the prediction of general fluid intelligence (Gf). However, while visual arrays does contribute uniquely to higher cognition, its overall correlation to Gf is largely mediated by variance associated with the complex span factor. Thus we argue that visual arrays performance is not strictly driven by a limited-capacity storage system (e.g., the focus of attention; Cowan, 2001), but may also rely on control processes such as selective attention and controlled memory search.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)608-628
Number of pages21
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Attention
  • Complex span
  • Visual arrays
  • Working memory
  • Working memory capacity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology(all)


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