Using a computer analogy, the amount of working memory that we can hold in our brain at any one time is similar to RAM — a capability that is limited yet critical for analytical skills.
Scientists say working memory capacity reflects the ability to focus and control attention and strongly influences our ability to solve problems.
However, new research finds that working memory may limit creative problem-solving.
A new article in journal Current Directions in Psychological Science discusses the role of working memory capacity in both mathematical and creative problem-solving.
Emerging research from a variety of psychological science studies suggests that high working memory capacity is associated with better performance at mathematical problem-solving. In fact, researchers now believe that decreased working memory capacity may be one reason why math anxiety leads to poor math performance.
In general, studies show that working memory capacity seems to help analytical problem-solvers focus their attention and resist distraction.
Nevertheless, researchers are discovering that working memory capacity may impair creative problem-solving.
With creative problems, reaching a solution may require an original approach or a novel combination of diverse pieces of information. This need for a big-picture, unencumbered view may be stifled by too much working memory.
Practically, real-world problems may require either analytic or creative solutions. Successful problem-solving matches the approach to the needs of a given situation.