May 03 2019 0comment
Portrait of a young businessman sitting at a desk surrounded by hands reaching in holding items

Working memory overload. The digital age is seriously taxing our brains.

Working memory overload. The digital age is seriously taxing our brains.

In the 21st century workplace, people are getting more and more distracted by information overload as work gets busier and life more frenetic.

What’s important now, more than ever, is a very good working memory, as it underlies our ability to focus and pay attention amongst the constant ‘noise’ going on around us. The fact of the matter is that people with a good working memory can still do their job well whilst dealing with the interruptions, the phone calls, the impromptu meetings, the changes in pace, and the many competing demands of modern work life.

Working memory is like a ‘mental notepad’. It’s the place in our brains where we temporarily hold information, and the problem is that we can quickly lose that information from working memory if we’re distracted.

People with high working memory capacity are better equipped for work in the 21st Century. And because they’re better at inter-relating information in their mind, they’re quicker to understand difficult concepts and develop solutions to problems.  People with poor working memory capacity can’t hold as much in mind and lose track of important details. Because their working memory is quickly overloaded, they struggle to retain critical information, their recall of details is poor, and their learning and problem solving suffers as a result.

While it’s known that people differ in their working memory capacity, what causes these variations is not completely understood. It may be genetic or could result from differences in early childhood environments or education. It has been shown that children who do well on working memory tests also do well at mathematics, reading, writing, comprehension, science, etc. and because of this, working memory is regarded as the cornerstone to academic achievement.

In the world of work, it’s becoming clear that testing working memory is hugely important for identifying people with the potential to succeed in the digital age. Working memory relates directly to competencies that are critical in 21st Century workplaces, including learning agility, innovation, dealing with competing demands, and maintaining situational awareness.

Importantly, there are fewer concerns about adverse impact when using a properly designed working memory test. That’s because they do not draw on any culturally specific knowledge, but instead use universally applicable test stimuli.

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