John N Towse MA (Oxon) PhD (Manchester)

So after cycling 100 miles to get there, now I know why it's called HardKnott Pass.

Research Section

I have several research interests; depending on your theoretical perspective, these may be related. In any case, I have divided up some issues in the hope that it makes navigation easier.

If you want to look at a more complete publication list of work, and associated links, you may be better to look in other places (t here's a separate link to publications as technical reports on-line . The university staff web page contains links to several on-line papers too) What follows is just an overview and orientation of work.

Models of working memory capacity

Working memory span tasks have become a popular way for researchers to estimate 'working memory capacity', and studies have repeatedly shown the efficacy of working memory span as predictors of high-level cognitive tasks. Working memory span tasks have sometimes been referred to as 'complex span' tasks. It is perhaps ironic that the term may be rather apt (it does indeed form a complex task) but we have been reluctant to embrace or even acknowledge complexity in the attempt to provide theoretical explanations for cognitive mechanisms. In the following papers, an attempt is made to examine some core assumptions about working memory span tests.

Conway, A.R.A., Jarrold, C., Kane, M., Miyake, A., & Towse, J. N. (1997). Variation in Working Memory. New York: Oxford University Press.

Towse, J. N., Hitch, G. J., Hamilton, Z., Peacock, K., & Hutton, U. M. Z. (2005). Working memory period: the endurance of mental representations. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 58A(3), 547-571.

Towse, J. N., & Cowan, N. (2005). Working memory and its relevance for cognitive development. In W. Schneider, R. Schumann-Hengsteler & B. Sodian (Eds.), Young Children’s Cognitive Development: Interrelationships among Executive Functioning, Working Memory, Verbal Ability, and Theory of Mind (pp. 9-37). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Cowan, N., Towse, J.N., Hamilton, Z., Saults, J.S., Elliott, E.M., Lacey, J.F., Moreno, M.V., & Hitch, G.J. (2003). Children's working-memory processes: A response-timing analysis. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 132(1), 113-132. Abstract .

Towse, J.N., Hitch, G.J., & Hutton, U. (1998). "A reevaluation of working memory capacity in children". Journal of Memory and Language, 39(2), 195-217. Abstract . Related material for this paper., or here

Towse, J.N., Hitch, G.J., & Hutton, U. (2000). "On the interpretation of working memory span in adults." Memory & Cognition, 28(3),341-348. Abstract . Related material for this paper.

Hitch, G.J., Towse, J.N., & Hutton, U. (2001). "What limits children's working memory span? Theoretical accounts and applications for scholastic development." Journal of Experimental Psychology (General), 130(2), 184-198. Abstract.

Central executive functioning

According to some research perspectives, theories of central executive functioning subsume models of working memory capacity. However, the central executive concept has been used in different research areas and these have pursued almost independent pathways. At issue in the following papers is the 'control function' ascribed to the central executive. The work suggests how the term 'executive function' can be a promiscuous concept. The Towse & Neil paper focuses on some software for the analysis of human attempts at random generation. There are also some brief notes on random generation , including reference pointers.

Towse, J.N. & Hitch, G.J. (1997). "Integration of information in object counting: a role for a central coordination process?" Cognitive Development, 12(3), 393-422. Abstract

Towse, J. N., & Cheshire, A. (2007). Random number generation and working memory. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology , 19(3) , 374-394.

Towse, J.N., & Mclachlan, A. (1999). "An exploration of random generation among children." British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 17 , 363-380. Abstract .

Towse, J.N., & Neil, D. (1998). "Analyzing human random generation behavior: A review of methods used and a computer program for describing performance." Behavior Research Methods, Instruments & Computers, 30(4) , 583-591. Abstract . More details .Source article

Towse, J.N., & Houston-Price, C.M.T. (2001). "Combining representations in working memory: A brief report." British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 19 , 319-324. Abstract . Some of the data in this paper can be inspected (as an SPSS portable-format file) here .

Representational flexibility

Asking preschool children to play a game where they sort bright and simple laminated cards into two piles, according to some unambiguous rules, appears innocuous enough. A body of work suggests that some children may find this task quite challenging. Some ideas as to why are explored in the following publications, including recent work that highlights the importance of maintaining goal representations.

Towse, J. N., Redbond, J., Houston-Price, C. M. T. & Cook, S. (2000). "Understanding the Dimensional Change Card Sort: Perspectives from task success and failure." Cognitive Development, 15(3), 347-365. Abstract . Digitised stimuli used in this paper

Towse, J. N., Lewis, C., & Knowles, M. (2007). When knowledge is not enough: the phenomenon of goal neglect in preschool children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 96, 320-332.

The emergence of number skills

The practical importance of understanding early mathematical skills should be apparent, and attitudes towards mathematics begin to be shaped from an early age. Concepts and skills that may seem trivial to us, as adults, may nonetheless pose real problems for children as they attempt to crack the code of mathematics.

Muldoon, K. P.Lewis, C., & Towse, J. N. (2005). Because it's there! Why some children count, rather than infer numerical relationships. Cognitive Development, 20(3), 472-491.

Saxton, M., & Towse, J.N. (1998), "Linguistic relativity: The case of place-value in multi-digit numbers". Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 69(1) , 66-79. Abstract .

Towse, J.N., & Saxton, M. (1997). "Linguistic influences on children's number concepts: methodological and theoretical considerations". Journal of Experimental Child Psychology , 66 , 362-375. Abstract .

Towse, J.N., & Saxton, M. (1998). "Mathematics across national boundaries: Cultural and linguistic perspectives on numerical competence". In C. Donlan (Ed.) "The development of mathematics skills" . pp. 129-150. Psychology Press: Hove.

In connection with this research theme, I have been a mentor for Dr Kevin Muldoon , who completed his PhD under the supervision of Prof. Charlie Lewis here at Lancaster. Kevin held an ESRC postdoctoral research fellowship (2003-2004), examining early number skills and in particular, cardinality. Kevin has now taken up a lecturership at Herriot-Watt University.

Forthcoming publications:
  • Lewis, C., Carpendale, J., Towse, J. N., Maridaki-Kassotaki, K. (in press). Epistemic flow and the social making of minds. Chapter in "Self- and social regulation: Exploring the Relations between Social Interaction, Social Cognition, and the Development of Executive Functions". Oxford University Press.
  • Loetscher, T., Nicholls, M.E.R., Towse, J.N., Bradshaw, J.L., Brugger, P. (in press). Lucky numbers: Spatial neglect affects physical, but not representational, choices in a Lotto task. Cortex , in press.

Other research - related material:
  • A Forum for working memory research
  • Press cuttings on the state of mathematical competence.
  • An overview of how to take response time measurements from immediate memory recall sequences.
  • Current PhD Students: Emma Threadgold.
  • Past PhD students: Una Hutton (RHUL) (submitted 2004), Rosalia Carnero (submitted 2006).
  • Example research activities

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    Last tinkered with this page: 4 April 2011