The Phonological Loop

The phonological loop holds verbal and auditory information. It’s a temporary store of mainly verbal information together awith a rehearsal mechanism. It has two components, the phonological store (linked to speech perception) and the articulatory rehearsal system (linked to speech production). The phonological loop can have both speech inputs (eg audio) and non-speech (eg written words, converted into audio (subvocally). When you hear something, it enters the phonological loop as a trace which fades within about 2 seconds unless you refresh it through rehearsal. So, you remember a sequence of short words better than a sequence of long words, because people can remember as much as they can say in about 2 seconds
– Eg Tip key lap dog sap VS Invigilator, hippopotamus, dictionary, refrigerator, university

The Digit Span Test
The digit span test is a common task which measures working memory capacity. You have to remember a string of digits. dThe number of digits that you can remember varies depending on what language you do the task in, because some languages have numbers that are longer or shorter than others. For example, in English, we can remember 6 digits, but in Italian and Hebrew it’s much less. Mandarin has the greatest digit span because more than one digit can be said in a syllable, so you can remember more digits in the 2 seconds of your memory capacity. People with better digit spans are better at mental math because you can hold info in your memory longer.

Is the phonological loop attune to the sounds or the meanings of words?
DEMO: say the following:
– Sip may row fun hat VS rat map can ran cap
You remember items with unlike sounds better than with similar sounds, therefore the phonological loop is concerned with the sound of words. Similar sounds are more difficult to remember. However, similarities in meaning are not difficult to remember (eg say: cool, rad, awesome, wicked, sweet).
If you’re distracted by nonsense words or irrelevant sounds, recall declines. This is called articulatory suppression. This could either be due to trace decay or interference.
– eg remember “pen tree fun mit pat” while saying ‘the the the the the’

The Phonological loop and Musicmusci
There is overlap between verbal functions of the phonological loop and the perception of and memory for music. The same core structures of the brain are involved in both verbal and tonal working memory. So, novice musicians use their working memories to memorise and learn music. However, by the time a musician becomes an expert, he has developed other mechanisms for memorising music that are non-auditory and use different areas of the brain.

The Phonological Loop may Control Behaviour
• When phonological loop is blocked by subjects saying ‘blah blah blah,’ subjects are worse at switching attention between tasks
• We may use it as a shortcut – we use verbalisation to help us do another task, because it’s very easy to load up phonological loop (say something to ourselves), keep it running and retrieve it. – Children learn to do this, first by speaking aloud, then in their head.
– Used to tell us what to control behaviour – tell us what to do next
– Eg After you get lost and ask for directions, you repeat ‘turn left at Hwy 2’ to yourself to remember.

Why do we have the phonological loop? What is its real purpose?
The purpose of the phonological loop is to help us learn language and expand our vocabulary. It keeps a trace of new unfamiliar words while it is being added to your long-term internal ‘word dictionary.’ This function is very important, since learning a big vocabulary when young is the biggest determinant of a child’s eventual intellectual and educational progress. The purpose of the phonological loop is not to help us remember familiar words – this is just a side effect.

Gathercole and Baddeley’s Studye
Gathercole and Baddeley wanted to determine whether 5 year olds are good at learning new words if they’re already good at remembering non-words through repetitions. To answer this question, experimenters named four toys and tested the children’s memory for the toys’ names. The toys were either given familiar names such as Peter and Michael or phonologically unfamiliar names such as Pyemass and Meeton. The children were tested for long-term retention the next day. The results of the study were that learning new words is correlated to phonological rehearsal ability in children. They found that children with phonological memory deficits had problems learning new words. This indicates that people with better phonological memory are better at learning new words. It doesn’t mean that children with working memory deficits will have a smaller vocabulary when they’re older. Other factors such as their executive process capabilities, their exposure to different vocabulary etc will influence their vocabulary acquisition as they age. Lastly, it indicates that tests based on working memory can be used to identify children with ADHD or learning difficulties.


They asked the question of whether a strong working memory can predict your ability to learn a new language. So, they compared proficient multilinguals and bilinguals’ working memory abilities. First, the accomplished multilinguals’ WM, STM, foreign language aptitude and IQ were measured. Then, 28 accomplished multilinguals were compared to 36 mainstream English philology students using tests. They found that the accomplished multilinguals have superior memory abilities with respect to the phonological loop and the central executive component, which indicated that there is a correlation between being a multilingual, having a strong working memory and having a high IQ.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s