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Every Study you need to know for AS Psychology - Baddeley and Hitch's Working Memory Model

Updated on March 11, 2013

This Article

This educational article is a sequel to its parent article:

It is suggested that you read this article if you are not already familiar with the multi-store model of memory and key terms such as 'STM' (short term memory) and 'LTM' (long term memory) however you might persevere regardless.

A diagram showing the three components of Baddeley and Hitch's working model of memory!
A diagram showing the three components of Baddeley and Hitch's working model of memory! | Source

What is Baddeley and Hitch's Working Memory Model (1974)?

Baddeley and Hitch's model mainly focusses on the different parts of the STM, defining three distinct components each with a unique function:

  1. The phonological loop that deals with verbal information (the sounds of words)
  2. The visuo-spatial sketchpad that deals with visual and spatial information,
  3. The central executive that coordinates the above two components.

No! Not this kind of executive! But remember that both roles have a role in leadership.
No! Not this kind of executive! But remember that both roles have a role in leadership. | Source

The Central Executive (CE)


  • Allows us to focus and switch our focus onto other tasks
  • Coordinate information from the visuo-spatial sketchpad and phonological loop
  • Perform problem-solving tasks

Key Details

  • Can process information from any of our senses
  • Can store information for a short period of time

Evaluating the Central Executive

  • Very little is actually known about the CE and when asked to evaluate the working memory model you should not hesitate to mention this!

Visuo-Spatial Sketchpad


  • Deals with visual information like shapes and colours.
  • Deals with spatial information like space, distance and location.
  • Allows us to visualise space and locations, like an 'inner eye' - recalling an image you have seen utilises the visuospatial sketchpad.

Research on the Visuospatial Sketchpad

Gathercole and Baddeley found that participants found it very difficult to use the visuospatial sketchpad when confronted with two tasks requiring its attention - following a point of light whilst also describing angles of the letter F.

When participants were asked to follow the light whilst performing a task that would require the phonological loop they managed to perform both tasks relatively easily.

Key name: Gathercole

Phonological Loop

The Two-Part Structure and its Functions

  1. The Articulatory Control Process gives us the capacity to rehearse speech (sometimes referred to as our 'inner voice') without actually speaking aloud. This ability is called 'sub-vocal speech'.
  2. The Phonological Store holds auditory memory traces for about two seconds (after which they fade away). The phonological store is also called the 'inner ear' because you can 'hear' words that you 'say' to yourself even though no sound was actually produced.


  • It is important to keep in mind that verbal information isn't limited to speech and includes receiving information from our eyes as well as our ears. This is because after reading a word we automatically convert that visual information into the sound of the word, and this information then enters the phonological loop and is treated like a sound.
  • Of course, auditory verbal information enters the phonological loop directly as it does not need to be converted like visual verbal information.

A Video of a Teacher Explaining the Working Memory Model

Research on the Phonological Loop

For the exam, you don't actually need to know who performed the studies that lead to the following findings, nor do you even need to know who performed them - hooray for you!

  1. Similar Sounds are recalled a lot worse in short term memory e.g. plosive sounds like 'P' in 'pot', 'G' in 'goat', 'B' in 'Bob' and 'D' in 'dog', which all involve short bursts of air when pronouncing them. When sounds are not similar like 'G' and 'Y' there is no effect on recall. This also applies to similar sounding words - the STM will confuse the sounds upon recalling, often leading to failure. Semantically similar words (where the meanings are similar) are just as easy (or difficult) to remember as words that have completely different meanings. What we can conclude from this is that the phonological loop (and not just the whole of the STM like Baddeley thought after his 1966 experiment) works using an acoustic code.
  2. Distractions can affect the memory capacity of the phonological loop - it was found that if you repeat a word or sentence whilst also trying to rehearse some other verbal information in your head you won't be able to remember the latter as well.
  3. Important Life Fact
    Articulation is the process of saying words internally (sub-vocally) in order to prevent the trace for that word decaying. The important fact is that you only have around 2 seconds to articulate a given word before the trace for that memory decays! This is why it has been found that people remember long lists of shorter words easier than long lists of longer words - it takes us less time to articulate shorter words!

The improved version of Baddeley and Hitch's working model of memory with the added 'episodic buffer'.
The improved version of Baddeley and Hitch's working model of memory with the added 'episodic buffer'. | Source

Improvements to the 1974 Working Model

Baddeley improved his three component model in 2000 by including something called the 'episodic buffer' which attempts to account for the way that the STM and LTM react with each other.

He postulated the following functions for this new component:

  • It combines information from the visuospatial sketchpad and the phonological loop, grouping them into episodes of time (just like the LTM episodic faculty does but only a temporary version).
  • These episodes are then available for transfer to LTM.

Baddeley himself explaining the episodic buffer!


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