Interactivity mitigates the impact of working memory depletion on mental arithmetic performance


Doing long sums in the absence of complementary actions or artefacts is a multistep procedure that quickly taxes working memory; congesting the phonological loop further handicaps performance. In the experiment reported here, participants completed long sums either with hands down – the low interactivity condition – or by moving numbered tokens – the high interactivity condition – while they repeated “the” continuously, loading the phonological loop, or not. As expected, interactivity and articulatory suppression substantially affected performance; critically, the effect of articulatory suppression was stronger in the low than in the high interactivity condition. In addition, an independent measure of mathematics anxiety predicted the impact of articulatory suppression on performance only in the low (not high) interactivity condition. These findings suggest that interactivity augmented overall systemic working memory resources and diminished the effect of mathematics anxiety, underscoring the importance of characterizing the properties of the system as it is configured by the dynamic agent-environment coupling.

In Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications