Honors Program


Date of this Version


Document Type



Bartmess, A. 2024. Investigating the Breadth of Strategies Used and their Advantages for Verbal Working Memory. Undergraduate Honors Thesis. University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


Copyright Abbie Bartmess 2024


Working Memory (WM) and working memory capacity have an important role in higher-order cognitive tasks given WM capacity can be a predictor of various abilities. Those with higher WM capacities usually perform better on WM tasks compared to those with lower WM capacities because they are superior at inhibiting distractors, updating target information, and comprehending the task. However, one understudied influence on WM performance is strategy use, as the use of certain strategies can result in improvements in performance on WM tasks. It is possible that those with lower WM capacities may have developed strategies to offset limitations to perform WM tasks adequately, but the specific roles of strategy use and their limits of potential benefits are not yet fully understood. This thesis aims to study differences in strategy use and performance on WM tasks, as well as address whether there may be better ways to approach memorization and learning as in relation to WM performance. Participants completed two WM tasks adapted from Sternberg (1996): The K-task and the Sternberg Working Memory Task (SWMT). The K-task was used to estimate a participant’s WM capacity, and that score was used to calibrate list sizes of the second working memory task (SWMT). After completing both WM tasks, they were then asked about their strategy use while completing the SWMT. Finally, participants completed a Multifactorial Memory Questionnaire to assess their satisfaction with their memory capabilities and the number of strategies used to aid their memory in everyday life. I examined whether there were differences in WM response time and accuracy across various strategies and compared which individual strategies were related to better performance on these WM metrics. Additionally, I tested whether performance changes based on total strategy use on shorter and longer lists on a WM task and whether there are differences in performance for the satisfaction of memory capabilities and frequency of strategies used in daily life. Findings indicated that there are differences in performance based on what strategies were used during the SWMT, the number of strategies participants relied on when completing different list sizes, and their relation to accuracy. Finally, I propose additional research directions on strategy use and discuss whether explicit teaching strategies may be a viable way to try and increase WM performance.