Alan Baddeley’s Working Memories

I was planning on reading Alan Baddeley’s classic text on Working Memory, and in searching the library, I found a 2019 version, which I failed to notice is titled “Working Memories”(plural), a really clever title for an autobiography of his career in memory research! It’s been a pleasure to read this book, which covers a lot of theory, but set in both the scientific and social context of the times. It is very instructive for younger academics to understand the very different social and political environment that shapes academia in terms of its funding and the control of gateways into recognition (through academic appointments, the concept of tenure, and the role of publishing in recognised journals). It is also instructive to read of how people navigate through changing times, to hear about the social networks that are so important in understanding the evolution of ideas, and to read about how theory and application are linked. It is somewhat reassuring to know that links between theory and application take a long time to develop, involve a range of different types of researchers, and often involve quite idiosyncratic personalities and interests.

Here is a review of the book which includes this quote:

There is a story about an introduction to a company report in which the document was compared to a bikini: “what is revealed was important, but what it covered was critical” … Written at the age of 84, this book is at the same time an insightful history of cognitive psychology, and an authoritative scientific autobiography.

The review goes on in more detail in a similar vein to my own views on the book, which I highly recommend as a starting point for anyone wanting to read about cognitive psychology.

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