Working memory is a type of memory that, well, does a lot of work. It’s the type of memory you use when you’re doing a task and you need to keep relevant information in your mind.
Needing to keep information in your mind is, of course, something that happens frequently in a wide variety of contexts. Given how working memory is involved across a range of situations, psychologists have looked at whether exercises designed to improve working memory might lead to significant everyday benefits.
I’ve written about some possible benefits of working memory training before. These include things like keeping your brain sharp as you age and becoming more attentive in daily tasks.
Maybe it’s no surprise that giving your working memory a workout could hold cognitive benefits. What’s probably less expected is that working memory training might boost emotional skills as well.
A new review of previously published research indicates that multiple studies seem to highlight a positive effect of working memory on emotional regulation.
According to the review, there’s some evidence that working memory training can help with reducing rumination, unwanted thoughts and anxiety. It may also increase people’s tendency to reframe situations in a positive way and decrease their tendency to use counterproductive coping mechanisms.
Why is that the case? It’s not clear, but the authors of the review suggest that more working memory capacity might help with holding information related to emotions in mind, which could in turn help with emotional regulation. To put it another way, the type of working memory involved in cognitive tasks might be related to the type of working memory involved in emotional problem solving.
That explanation is speculative, and more research is needed to understand how exactly working memory factors into emotional regulation. But the findings so far suggest that working memory training might have potential in building emotional skills in addition to cognitive ones!