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NBH Canonbury research into students’ working memory with the University of York

As part of our ongoing work to understand teens – their academic and personal needs according to the brain’s changes during adolescence – and thus enhance their well-being and academic success, North Bridge House Canonbury is currently working with the University of York’s Psychology department to ascertain the impact of distraction on working memory.

This week, four PhD students from the university came to collect data from students at NBH Canonbury, who trialled their latest smart-phone games which have been designed to help understand what limits working memory.

Nearly 100 students from across Years 7 to 12 took part in the experiment over the course of a day, taking to the mobile games on school iPads and allowing the university to address interesting new questions about what limits working memory in childhood and adolescents.

“A fun activity but a serious topic: the impact of distraction on working memory of teenagers is an under-explored area of research,” says North Bridge House Senior Canonbury Headteacher, Mr Taylor.

We will continue to work with the University of York’s Psychology students as they collate the data, keen to understand how and why poor working memory may hold some children back academically – and indeed how to overcome this. Mr Taylor continues,

“As a school, we are particularly interested in the effect of listening to music on students’ ability to memorise information. However, based on what we know of Cognitive Load theory, it’s likely the research will confirm that, contrary to student protestations, listening to music whilst revising is detrimental to effective learning.”


Watch this space for the official results

This is a fantastic opportunity for both North Bridge House and the University of York, particularly after their previous study in which they tested the games on 29,000 adults. As with the university’s last study, they hope to publish their findings in journal articles, and anticipate further media interest.

But what is working memory?

Working memory is the ability to hold information in mind for a short time. We need it for all kinds of things in daily life, and especially at school. We need it to understand language (for example as we hold the first part of a sentence in mind while we deal with the rest of it), for maths, for reasoning and for making decisions.

As we move through childhood and adolescence, we are able to hold more and more information in working memory. However, even when we account for age, some people can hold more in working memory than others, and poor working memory is known to predict poorer school performance.

Research suggests that our ability to focus on relevant information and ignore distraction may be an important limiting factor for working memory. There is good evidence that people with poor working memory aren’t so good at filtering out irrelevant information, and that the irrelevant information may fill up their working memory, leaving insufficient capacity for relevant information.

Contribute to the University of York’s research and have a go at the games yourself; they are coming soon to the Psychology department’s website.

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