Working memory for self-initiated and provided spatial configurations

Hagit Magen*, Tatiana Aloi Emmanouil

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


During a typical day, people temporarily memorise information provided to them. However, they memorise as often information they actively choose themselves. Although prevalent in everyday behaviour, this aspect of working memory (WM), we term self-initiated WM, has been largely unexplored. In this study, we used a modified spatial span task in which participants constructed the spatial sequences they maintained in memory. The results of three experiments demonstrated that participants planned and constructed structured spatial sequences by minimising the distances between successive locations and by selecting sequences with fewer path crossings. The sequences were initiated most often on the top left side. Memory accuracy was enhanced when participants memorised self-initiated spatial sequences, even when the self-initiated and provided sequences were matched for structure. When asked to construct spatial sequences for a hypothetical competitor in a memory contest, participants constructed complex sequences with longer paths and more path crossings, suggesting that these sequence parameters were under their control. The tendency to initiate the spatial sequences on the top left side remained. Overall, the results suggest that self-initiated WM can benefit from explicit metacognitive knowledge of the ideal structure of memory representations and also demonstrate that selfinitiation benefits memory beyond structure.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)2186-2206
Number of pages21
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number10
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Experimental Psychology Society 2017.


  • Gestalt
  • Grouping
  • Self-initiation
  • Spatial working memory


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