The Working Memory and Short-Term Memory

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When it comes to the anatomy of the brain and its functions, people often speak of short-term memory and working memory. Some use it interchangeably, while others provide vague descriptions that distinguish one from the other. Here is a short explanation of each and how they are different. 

The Working Memory

The working memory is a system in the brain that has to do with reasoning and comprehension. Because it is a system, the working memory does more than just store information. When a piece of information enters the working memory, it can be manipulated and processed. Parts of the brain involved in working memory functions include the frontal cortex, prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate, and basal ganglia.

It is important to note that the working memory declines with age. To prevent this, you have to keep your brain “working” by doing activities like learning new skills, reading, and pursuing a hobby. 

Short Term Memory

Short-term memory is one part of a bigger system, which is the working memory. The term “short term memory” is sometimes used interchangeably with active or primary memory because it has to do with storing information for a period of a few seconds to 30 seconds. All of this information is temporary and quickly forgotten. However, through the process of repetition and use, it can move into the long-term memory. Short-term memory handles information that is active and readily available.

The Difference Between Working Memory and Short-Term Memory

The working memory and short-term memory are sometimes confused with each other. The short-term memory stores information for a few seconds, while the working memory processes and structures the information for a short time.

To give a concrete example: short term memory is in charge of helping you remember the phone number that your friend dictated to you as you save it on your smartphone. Working memory is in charge of helping you process information that you learned in class as you take notes and study.


The working memory and the short-term memory, although sometimes used interchangeably, are different things. To be specific, the short-term memory stores information for only a few seconds and is part of a bigger system—the working memory. Through consistent use and repetition, the information stored in the working memory and short-term memory can be transferred to the long-term memory.  

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