“What’s special about working memory is that it is volitional,” said Miller, Picower Professor in the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT. “It is the main mechanism by which your brain wrests control from the environment and puts it under its own control. Any simple creature can just react to the environment. But what higher order animals have evolved is the ability to take control over their own thoughts.”
If only neuroscientists knew how the brain did that. Motivated by that question and by a desire to help people in whom the system is not functioning properly, Miller has been studying how working memory works for more than 20 years. Now, in the 30th Anniversary edition of the journal Neuron, Miller and co-authors Mikael Lundqvist and Andre Bastos present a new model of working memory that explains how the brain holds information in mind (the “memory” part) and also executes volitional control over that (the “working” part).
“This model brings together the maintenance and volition of working memory,” Miller said.