An Exploration of the Relations between External Representations and Working Memory Academic Article uri icon


  • It is commonly hypothesized that external representations serve as memory aids and improve task performance by means of expanding the limited capacity of working memory. However, very few studies have directly examined this memory aid hypothesis. By systematically manipulating how information is available externally versus internally in a sequential number comparison task, three experiments were designed to investigate the relation between external representations and working memory. The experimental results show that when the task requires information from both external representations and working memory, it is the interaction of information from the two sources that determines task performance. In particular, when information from the two sources does not match well, external representations hinder instead of enhance task performance. The study highlights the important role the coordination among different representations plays in distributed cognition. The general relations between external representations and working memory are discussed.

author list (cited authors)

  • Zhang, J., & Wang, H.

citation count

  • 7

publication date

  • August 2009