Working memory plays an important role in how people cope with negative events in life.
Working memory is our ability to process information in the conscious mind.
For example, if I give you a series of 10 numbers and then ask you to add up the second and fourth one, you are using your working memory.
Our working memories can also be used to refocus our minds away from negative thinking.
Dr. Tracy Alloway, the study’s first author, said:
“There is a growing body of research supporting the role of working memory in emotional regulation.
We know that those with clinical depression have difficulties in suppressing irrelevant negative information, while those with high working memory are able to ignore negative emotions.
But we wanted to investigate whether you see a similar pattern in healthy adults across the lifespan.”
Testing of over 2,000 people revealed a number of interesting findings:
- The young are the most pessimistic and people get more optimistic as they get older.
- The more pessimistic people were, the more prone they were to depression.
- Working memory can help refocus the mind from depressing thoughts.
Negative events tend to attract our attention more than positive ones, because it helps us survive.
Of course, it is easy for this bias towards negative thinking to go too far and send us into a spiral of depression.
Dr Alloway said:
“Human behavior is goal-directed and when we face an impediment to achieving a goal, we can respond with either a pessimistic outlook or an optimistic one.
A strong working memory can counter a pessimistic outlook.
This is good news, especially for younger individuals (teens and those in their 20s), who had higher pessimism scores compared to their older peers.”
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The study was published in the Journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology, (Alloway & Horton, 2016).