The Three Components of Working Memory

Working memory is a multifaceted cognitive function that allows us to retain and manipulate incoming information for a short period of time. We use working memory when we have to remember a phone number, follow a conversation with a friend, and when we count money. Sometimes, people may have difficulty with one or more aspects of working memory. In this blog post, we discuss the three components of working memory.


Working memory can be broken down into three main components: reordering, updating, and dual-processing. 


Imagine you are running errands that involve you visiting several different stores. One of your errands is to pick up groceries, but several of the items that you need involve perishable items. You may have had an original plan to run errands by choosing which stores to visit based on location, but you then may have had to change this plan in accordance with what items you needed from the stores to make sure that your purchase items last until you get home to put them away. You also need to be able to remember which stores you need to visit in the first place! This is an example of reordering, a component of working memory that takes an existing schema and manipulates it to meet the new task demands. This component of working memory is heavily involved in prioritizing tasks, which is essential for performing well in the workplace or academic environment.


This component of working memory is involved in the deletion and replacement of ongoing information. For example, imagine you are going to the hardware store to buy screws. Your neighbor whom you are helping tells you that you already have screws, but you need a hammer. You then have to erase the idea of buying screws and replace it with buying a hammer. This component of working memory allows people to pay attention to incoming new information and update existing mental plans to utilize the new information in order to behave efficiently. A situation where you use updating is when you are following stock market trends and have to make decisions on your investments.

Dual Processing

This part of working memory is the one most people are familiar with: the ability to process information while completing another task. We use dual processing when we are counting and sorting coins to determine how much money we have in front of us. This component of working memory is also necessary when taking medications, reading, and cooking. Problems with dual processing look like forgetting what coins you have already counted and how much money you had counted total or skipping an ingredient that you think you added for a dish.

Can I Work on These Components of Working Memory?

Yes! There are many cognitive activities that you can perform to build these components of working memory. Some people like to use print materials, while others like to use digital cognitive therapy tools that offer working memory exercises.


Working memory is a cognitive skill broken down into three major components: reordering, updating, and dual processing. Sometimes, people that struggle with working memory may have trouble with one or more of these components. Using digital cognitive therapy tools in addition to print materials, adults and children can practice the individual components of working memory to learn effective strategies needed to overcome obstacles.

Dustin Luchmee

Dustin was HappyNeuron's Product Specialist. With research experience in stroke, Dustin learned how a stroke can change someone's life. He also learned how different kinds of therapists can work together to help a person get better. He is passionate about neuro-rehabilitation and finding the active ingredients for effective therapy.

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