You are on page 1of 2

Operation Span theoretical background:


Operation span is a renowned task designed to examine the capacity of working memory.
It was designed by Turner and Engle in 1989 and was originally named operation-word-span. It
involves two essential components, one being the processing of arithmetic information and the
other having to do with verbal storage capacity. This test has been featured within many working
memory (WM) test procedures as well as standardized intelligence tests.

Due to its brilliant methodology, this task, together with other WM tasks, has been
proven to be a valid and reliable measurement for working memory (Conway et. al., 2005).
Operation span together with counting span (Case, Kurland, & Goldberg, 1982) and reading span
(Daneman & Carpenter, 1980) are among the most popular tests due to the vast array of data
available on the topic. The principles underpinning these can be generalized outside span tasks to
other cognitive abilities accordingly (Conway et al, 2005). In the case of operation span task,
participants have to verify equations while maintaining words visible directly after in their
working memory. The accuracy of the verification must be close to flawless and if accuracy on
the arithmetic component falls below a certain level (typically, 85%), the entire data set for that
subject will be invalid.

There are two theories that have underlined the difficulty of this span task: space
hypothesis (Case, 1985) and decay theory by Towse and Hitch (1995). As far as the initial theory
is concerned, both storage and processing share the same limited space and in being
simultaneously utilized, there must be a trade-off between the two components. Nonetheless, in
the latter theory, Hitch et al. explained that the memory traces of the verbal items are under
influence of time-related decay while the processing task is being performed.


With this being said, we come to formulate our research question: What effect does the
complexity of the processing component have on the verbal storage component?


According to the space hypothesis, the more complex the task is the more resources are used
within working memory. The latter theory stresses that the more complex the first task the longer
the operation takes to be solved. In either case, it is important to note that the verbal storage will
be affected. Thus, we hypothesize that the more complicated the arithmetic component is the
more the verbal storage capacity will be affected therefore.

We plan to test 20 participants, however, due to the complexity of the task and the chance of test
results being invalid, we hope to acquire more as we need a sufficient amount of data sets. We
hope to recruit our participants by asking family and friends that are residing within The
Netherlands and it seems that we have a sufficient amount. Since ages 18-25 seem to have a peak
with their cognitive abilities, we will select our participants from within this age group.


CONWAY, A. R., KANE, M. J., BUNTING, M. F., HAMBRICK, D. Z., WILHELM, O., & ENGLE, R. W. (2005).
THEORETICAL AND REVIEW ARTICLES Working memory span tasks: A methodological review and
users guide. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 769-786.

Lepine, R., Bernardin, S., & Barrouillet, P. (2005). Attention switching and working memory spans.

operation_span_task. (2013). Retrieved from