Investigating the Effect of Exercise on Working Memory Encoding, Resolution, and Maintenance
Working memory is a fundamental cognitive ability that underlies our action and performance in daily life. Since working memory is such a critical function, it is important to understand how it may be affected by varied behavioral states. One such state is exercise. It is reasonable to expect, and it has been demonstrated in previous literature, that exercise, reflective of movement through our environment, has an impact on brain activity through altered neuronal firing patterns, the stimulation of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and altered neurotransmitter concentrations (Bullock, Elliot, Serences, & Giesbrecht, 2017; Hakansson et al., 2016; McMorris, Sproule, Turner, & Hale, 2010). The current study aims to elucidate the effect of exercise on working memory encoding, resolution, and maintenance. Previous research provides mixed findings regarding the effect of exercise on working memory, which suggest that separating the components of working memory is critical to understanding this effect. The current studies employ two working memory paradigms that allow us to critically investigate encoding and resolution (study 1) as well as maintenance and filtering (study 2). The results from study one suggest that encoding rates decrease for larger set sizes during exercise compared to at rest and, subsequently, the resolution of encoded information is higher during exercise compared to at rest. Results from study two suggest that there is no difference the amount of information encoded and maintained through retention between subjects with low capacity versus high capacity at rest but a difference emerges during low intensity exercise. While these data do not provide a clear picture of the effect of exercise on working memory, we do see clear evidence that low intensity exercise modulates working memory in some way. Further research is needed to elucidate and explore the neural mechanisms of these effects.