Binding Costs in Processing Efficiency as Determinants of Cognitive Ability

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Performance in elementary cognitive tasks is moderately correlated with fluid intelligence and working memory capacity. These correlations are higher for more complex tasks, presumably due to increased demands on working memory capacity. In accordance with the binding hypothesis, which states that working memory capacity reflects the limit of a person’s ability to establish and maintain temporary bindings (e.g., relations between items or relations between items and their context), we manipulated binding requirements (i.e., 2, 4, and 6 relations) in three choice reaction time paradigms (i.e., two comparison tasks, two change detection tasks, and two substitution tasks) measuring mental speed. Response time distributions of 115 participants were analyzed with the diffusion model. Higher binding requirements resulted in generally reduced efficiency of information processing, as indicated by lower drift rates. Additionally, we fitted bi-factor confirmatory factor analysis to the elementary cognitive tasks to separate basal speed and binding requirements of the employed tasks to quantify their specific contributions to working memory capacity, as measured by Recall−1-Back tasks. A latent factor capturing individual differences in binding was incrementally predictive of working memory capacity, over and above a general factor capturing speed. These results indicate that the relation between reaction time tasks and working memory capacity hinges on the complexity of the reaction time tasks. We conclude that binding requirements and, therefore, demands on working memory capacity offer a satisfactory account of task complexity that accounts for a large portion of individual differences in ability.

In Journal of Intelligence

Links to all co-authors:

Florian Schmitz

Oliver Wilhelm