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Does working memory load lead to greater impulsivity? Commentary on Hinson, Jameson, and Whitney’s (2003).


Previous research by J. M. Hinson, T. L. Jameson, and P. Whitney (2003) demonstrated that a secondary task in a delayed discounting paradigm increased subjects’ preference for the immediate reward. J. M. Hinson et al. interpreted their findings as evidence that working memory load results in greater impulsivity. The present authors conducted a reanalysis of the data from J. M. Hinson et al.’s Experiment 1 at the individual-subject level. Difference scores were calculated by subtracting the digit memory load condition from the control condition for k (discounting parameter) and a measure of “erroneous” responses. The results indicated that the secondary task increased random responding, which in turn can account for the increased mean estimates of k. Thus, the data do not support the claim that cognitive load affects impulsivity per se.

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