Dr. Nelson Cowan






18 McAlester Hall
phone: 573-882-4232
fax: 573-882-7710

Mailing Address

University of Missouri-Columbia
Department of Psychological Sciences
210 McAlester Hall
Columbia, MO 65211-2500

Research Specializations

  • Short-term or working memory
  • Childhood development of short-term or working memory
  • Relations between working memory and selective attention in information processing

Some Professional Activities

  • Member of the Governing Board of the Psychonomic Society
  • Honorary Doctorate from the University of Helsinki
  • Associate Editor, European Journal of Cognitive Psychology
  • Former associate editor, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition
  • Former associate editor, Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
  • Former program committee member, APA, APS, MPA

Public Issues

Statement of Research Interests and Orientation

My research always has been driven by basic philosophical questions about the human mind, concerned with the most basic elements of conscious experience. What mechanisms allow human beings to experience the world as they do? Experiments on memory, attention, perception, and cognitive development address this question.

Current research focus: selective attention and working memory. "Working memory" (or short-term memory) can be defined as the small amount of information that can be kept in an accessible state in order to be used in ongoing mental tasks. For example, to comprehend ongoing language, one must hold in mind what has been said so far. In a 1988 article in Psychological Bulletin I put forward my view that what has been called working memory actually refers to two processes, a source of some confusion. Working memory refers to the automatic, temporary persistence of sensory and semantic information recently activated in the brain, and also to the inclusion of a subset of the activated information in the focus of attention. Donald Broadbent, a pioneer in the field, asked me to write a book expanding this view (1995, Oxford University Press, Attention and memory: An integrated framework). In addition to discussing memory, I offered hypotheses of how information enters the focus of attention, and of the relation between memory activation and attention.

Related to this theoretical view, I initiated a line of research on the role of attention in perception that has proved to be very informative. In 1990, Cowan et al. (Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition) showed that the identification of vowels was about 20% higher (a very large effect) when the vowels were attended during their presentation than when they were ignored until just after their presentation. In a subsequent series of studies, we determined why one can notice unusual events in an ignored acoustic channel, akin to when you are engrossed in a conversation but you hear your own name within another conversation in the room. We found that this takes place only with disruption of the ongoing task; you cannot notice a strange event without impairing your ability to keep on doing what you were doing. Still, it was unclear why only some people noticed their names in an unattended channel. Conway, Cowan, and Bunting (2001, Psychonomic Bulletin & Review) showed that, interestingly, people with low working memory span are much more likely to notice their names. Their low working memory seems related to an inability to focus their attention strongly on the assigned task, so their attention is more free to wander during the task. This finding helps explain individual differences in working-memory capacity, which in turn correlates highly with intelligence and scholastic-aptitude tests.

Until recently, it has been difficult to measure the limits of working memory. In a seminal work, Miller (1956) showed that people could remember about 7 items in serial-order memory tasks. However, it was not clear what the fundamental limit was because the mental units were said to be groupings of items, or chunks. A 7-digit phone number might be recalled as a smaller number of easily-memorized chunks, e.g., 246-89-21. Unless the chunking processes can be revealed, there is no way to estimate how many chunks can be kept in working memory. In a 2001 theoretical review in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, I focused on many situations in which people presumably could not carry out chunking (e.g., because attention was diverted away from the stimuli until after they were presented). Under such circumstances, adults were able to recall 3-4 items. Research with children (Cowan et al., Child Development, 1999) showed that it was more like 2-3 items for children in the early elementary school years. Thus, this is a basic aspect of working memory that changes with development. The results also showed that being allowed to rehearse the lists improved everyone's recall but still did not reduce the difference between younger and older children. Our ongoing adult research shows that the limit of 3 to 4 chunks holds true even when multi-item chunks are memorized. Measures of this capacity correlate well with intelligence and aptitude tests.

Another line of research since 1992 has pioneered the use of careful measures of the timing of responses in working-memory tasks. We have shown that younger children take longer to search in short-term memory of a list for the word to be recalled next. This search rate, along with rehearsal rate, accounted for an astonishing 87% of the age-related variation in digit span (Cowan et al., 1998, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General). We recently used response-timing measures to show that different versions of a commonly-use working-memory procedure involve very different mental processes. If one must count displays of objects while remembering the sums from each display, attention must be shared between both tasks. However, if one must comprehend sentences while remembering the final word of each sentence, it is possible to switch attention away from the words and then reconstruct memory for them by reflecting upon the sentence material. One can tell because the latter type of process takes much longer (Cowan et al., 2003, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General).

Other interests. Much of my work has focused on the nature of acoustic and phonetic representations of sounds and how they automatically persist in short-term memory. This automatic processing is like the other side of the coin compared to attention-demanding processing. There is an acoustic afterimage of sound that lasts about 1/4 second, followed by a longer, vivid memory of sound that lasts for several seconds. I reached this conclusion in a critical review of research (Cowan, 1984, Psychological Bulletin).

Acoustic afterimages are key for perception of coherent speech. One question of fundamental interest was whether infants perceive sounds in the same way as adults. In adults, auditory afterimages can be studied by presenting two very brief sounds in succession. If the sounds' onsets are closer together than about 1/4 second, the second sound tends to interrupt the identification of the first by interfering with the use of the first sound's afterimage. During my graduate-school years, colleagues and I devised a comparable test in preverbal infants (Cowan et al., Child Development, 1982). We could tell if infants could detect sound variations (e.g., the repeating pair "ah-ah" changing to "eh-ah") by measuring increases in a learned sucking response that allowed access to the variations. If the variations occurred within pairs of vowels separated by 2/5 second, infants could make the discrimination; but not within pairs separated by only 1/4 second. The implication is that infants use an auditory afterimage longer than adults. Researchers continue to use concepts from this work, and sometimes still use our version of the discrimination procedure. Acoustic memory develops also in childhood. We show that young children lose acoustic information about unattended spoken words much more quickly than older children during a 5-second retention period (Cowan et al., 2000, Journal of Experimental Child Psychology).

I also published a study (1987, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance) clarifying how adults use auditory afterimages. Subjects were to judge the loudness of brief tones. When two tones were presented close together, the first tone was judged quieter than when it was presented in isolation. This supports the concept that ordinary perception requires information from acoustic afterimages.

Finally, we have questioned how acoustic memory is lost. I have addressed this issue in work with measures of both behavior and brain electrical activity (e.g., Cowan et al., 1992, Journal of Memory and Language; 1993, JEP:LMC; Winkler et al., 2001, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience). The primary source of short-term forgetting proves not to be the loss of information because time has elapsed but, rather, difficulty in retrieving information that no longer is perceived to be relevant to the most recent stimulation. This is a fundamental change in understanding.

Practical applications. It is often said that there is nothing as practical as a good theory. Our basic research ideas have been applied to improve the understanding of mental disabilities, in published collaborations with clinical researchers. Research on children with specific language impairment has shown that the short-term memory problems of these children occur because they are poor at using information about the serial order of spoken words, and because they are poor at converting printed items into a phonetic form to assist in remembering them (e.g., Gillam et al., Journal of Speech, Language, & Hearing Research, 1998). Research on schizophrenics has shown that these patients form imprecise mental representations of sounds, though they do not have trouble remembering these sounds once the representations are formed (e.g., March et al., Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 1999). This finding contradicts a widespread view that the damage in schizophrenia is restricted to the frontal lobes, which are responsible for planning and remembering information. Research on amnesic patients (victims of stroke and head injury) has shown that their memory is much improved when there is no stimulation for up to 1 hour between the presentation and recall of story information (e.g., Della Sala et al., Memory, in press), opening up exciting possibilities for memory training in these patients.


Journal Articles, Book Chapters and Reviews

(as of February 2017. Approximately newest to oldest.)

Click on pdf icons at the end of each article to obtain a copy. In cases for which the article does not have a pdf icon, you can obtain a final copy by email request to CowanN@missouri.edu or you can click on the link for a draft copy.”


Ricker, T.J., & Cowan, N. (invited chapter in preparation). Cognitive load as a measure of capture of the focus of attention. In R. Zheng, ed., Cognitive load measurement and application: A theoretical framework for meaningful research and practice. 

Alt, M., Hogan, T., Green, S., Gray, S., Cabbage, K. L., & Cowan, N. (in press). Word learning deficits in children with dyslexia. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research.

Tamm, G., Kreegipuu, K., Harro, J., & Cowan, N. (in press). Updating schematic emotional facial expressions in working memory: Response bias and sensitivity. Acta Psychologica.

Cowan, N. (in press). Working memory. In B. Frey (ed.), The SAGE Encyclopedia of Educational Research, Measurement, and Evaluation.

Cowan, N. (in press). Working memory, the information you are now thinking of. In J. Wixted (ed.), Learning and Memory: A Comprehensive Reference, 2nd edition. Elsevier.

Gargya, S., Blume, C.L., Naveh-Benjamin, M., & Cowan, N. (in press). Memory. In M.H. Bornstein (ed.), SAGE Encyclopedia of Lifespan Human Development. 



Cowan, N. (2017). Mental objects in working memory: Development of basic capacity or of cognitive completion? Advances in Child Development and Behavior, 81-104. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/bs.acdb.2016.12.001


Chekaf, M., Cowan, N., & Mathy, F. (2016). Chunk formation in immediate memory and how it relates to data compression. Cognition, 155, 96-107.

Vergauwe, E., Hardman, K.O., Rouder, J.N., Roemer, E. McAllaster, S. & Cowan, N. (2016). Searching for serial refreshing in working memory: Using response times to track the content of the focus of attention over time. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 23, 1818-1824.

Hardman, K.O., & Cowan, N. (2016). Reasoning and memory: People make varied use of the information available in working memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 42, 700-722.

Cowan, N. (2016). The many faces of working memory and short-term storage. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. DOI: 10.3758/s13423-016-1191-6 

Response to commentaries . #whatWM? A Response to Lewandowsky, Oberauer, Morey, and Schweppe , part of #whatWM? A digital event celebrating the 9 lives of working memory

Gray, S., Green, S., Alt, M., Hogan, T., Kuo, T., Brinkley, S., & Cowan, N. (2017). The structure of working memory in young school-age children and its relation to intelligence. Journal of Memory and Language, 19,183-201.

Cowan, N. (2016). Exploring the possible and necessary in working memory development. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 81, 149-158. (Commentary on article by Vanessa R. Simmering, "Working memory capacity in context: Modeling dynamic processes of behavior, memory, and development")

Cowan, N. (2016). Process Overlap Theory and first principles of intelligence testing. Psychological Inquiry, 27 #3, 190-191.

Majerus, S., & Cowan, N. (2016). The nature of verbal short-term impairment in dyslexia: The importance of serial order. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1-8, article 1522. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01522. 
Published online 2016 Oct 3. doi:  10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01522

Cabbage, K.L., Brinkley, S., Gray, S., Alt, M., Cowan, N., Green, S., Kuo, T., & Hogan, T.P. (in press). Assessing working memory in children: The Comprehensive Assessment Battery for Children – Working Memory (CABC-WM). Journal of Visualized Experiments.

Green, S.B., Yang, Y., Alt, M., Brinkley, S., Gray, S., Hogan, T., & Cowan, N. (2016). Use of internal consistency coefficients for estimating reliability of experimental task scores. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 23, 750-763.

Majerus, S., Cowan, N., Peters, F., Van Calster, L., Phillips, C., & Schrouff, J. (2016). Cross-modal decoding of neural patterns associated with working memory: Evidence for attention-based accounts of working memory.Cerebral Cortex, 2016 Jan; 26(1): 166-179.
Published online 2014 Aug 21. doi:  10.1093/cercor/bhu189

Blume, C.L., Boone, A.P., & Cowan, N. (2016). On the use of response chunking as a tool to investigate strategies. Frontiers in Psychology, 6: 1942.
Published online 2016 Jan 19. doi:  10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01942

Ricker, T.J., Vergauwe, E., & Cowan, N. (2016). Decay theory of immediate memory: From Brown (1958) to today (2014). The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 69:10, 1969-1995, DOI: 10.1080/17470218.2014.914546

Cowan, N. (2016). Working memory maturation: Can we get at the essence of cognitive growth? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 11, 239-264. 

Cowan, N., Hardman, K., Saults, J.S., Blume, C.L., Clark, K.M., & Sunday, M.A. (2016). Detection of the number of changes in a display in working memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 42(2): 169-185. 
Published online 2015 Aug 10. doi:  10.1037/xlm0000163


Öztekin, I., & Cowan, N. (2015). Representational states in memory: Where do we stand? Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 9: 453.
Published online 2015 Aug 18. doi:  10.3389/fnhum.2015.00453

Hardman, K., & Cowan, N. (2015). Remembering complex objects in visual working memory: Do capacity limits restrict objects or features? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 41(2): 325-347.
Published online 2014 Aug 4. doi:  10.1037/xlm0000031

Logie, R.H., & Cowan, N. (2015). Perspectives on working memory: Introduction to the special issue. Memory and Cognition, 43, 315–324

Vergauwe, E., & Cowan, N. (2015). Theories of short-term memory. In J.D. Wright, editor in chief, International Encyclopedia of Social & Behavioral Science (second edition, Vol. 21). Oxford, UK: Elsevier. (pp. 901-908). 
[For a copy of this article, write to CowanN@missouri.edu.]

Cowan, N. (2015). Sensational memorability: Working memory for things we see hear, feel, or somehow sense. In C. LeFebvre, P. Jolicoeur, & J. Martinez-Trujillo (eds.), Mechanisms of Sensory Working Memory. Elsevier. (pp. 5-22)

Cowan, N., Saults, J.S., Clark, K.M. (2015). Exploring age differences in visual working memory capacity: Is there a contribution of memory for configuration?  Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 135, 72-85.
Published online 2015 Apr 2. doi:  10.1016/j.jecp.2015.03.002

Cowan, N. (2015). George Miller’s magical number of immediate memory in retrospect:  Observations on the faltering progression of science. Psychological Review, 122(3): 536-541. 
Published online 2015 Mar 9. doi:  10.1037/a0039035

Cowan, N. (2015). Second-language use, theories of working memory, and the Vennian mind.  In Z. Wen, M.B. Mota, & A. McNeill (eds.), Working memory in second language acquisition and processing.Bristol, UK:  Multilingual Matters. (pp. 29-40)

Vergauwe, E.A. & Cowan, N. (2015). Working memory units are all in your head: Factors that influence whether features or objects are the favored units. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 41(5): 1404-1416. 
Published online 2015 Feb 23. doi:  10.1037/xlm0000108

Cowan, N. & Vergauwe, E.A. (2015). Applying how adults rehearse to understand how rehearsal may develop. Frontiers in Psychology, 5: 1538.
Published online 2015 Jan 7. doi:  10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01538

Li, D., Christ, S.E., Johnson, J.D., & Cowan, N. (2015). Attention and Memory. In, Brain mapping: An encyclopedic reference. Elsevier.
[For a copy of this article, write to CowanN@missouri.edu.]

Cowan, N., Ricker, T.J., Clark, K.M., Hinrichs, G.A., & Glass, B.A. (2015). Knowledge cannot explain the developmental growth of working memory capacity. Developmental Science, 18(1): 132-145.
Published online 2014 Jun 18. doi:  10.1111/desc.12197

Li, D., & Cowan, N. (2015). Auditory memory. In D. Jaeger & R. Jung (eds.), Encyclopedia of computational neuroscience. Springer. (pp. 236-238)

Vergauwe, E.A., & Cowan, N. (2015). Attending to items in working memory: Evidence that refreshing and memory search are closely related. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 22(4): 1001-1006.
doi:  10.3758/s13423-014-0755-6

Ricker, T.J., Vergauwe, E., Hinrichs, G.A., Blume, C.L., & Cowan, N. (2015). No recovery of memory when cognitive load is decreased. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 41(3): 872-880. 
Published online 2014 Nov 24. doi: 10.1037/xlm0000084


Dewar, M., Alber, J., Cowan, N., & Della Sala, S. (2014). Boosting long-term memory via wakeful rest: Intentional rehearsal is not necessary, consolidation is sufficient. PLOS One 9(10): e109542, 1-10.
Published online 2014 Oct 15. doi:  10.1371/journal.pone.0109542

Gilchrist, A.L., & Cowan, N. (2014). A two-stage search of visual working memory: Investigating speed in the change-detection paradigm. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 76(7): 2031–2050.
doi:  10.3758/s13414-014-0704-5

Cowan, N., Saults, J.S., & Blume, C.L. (2014). Central and peripheral components of working memory storage. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(5): 1806-1836.
Published online 2014 May 26. doi:  10.1037/a0036814

Naveh-Benjamin, M., Kilb, A., Maddox, G., Thomas, J., Fine, H., Chen, T., & Cowan, N. (2014). Revision of XLM-2013-1129 as invited by the Action Editor, Rebekah Smith: Older Adults Don’t Notice their Names: A New Twist to a Classic Attention Task. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 40(6): 1540-1550.
Published online 2014 May 12. doi:  10.1037/xlm0000020

Ricker, T.J., Spiegel, L.R., & Cowan, N. (2014). Time-based loss in visual short-term memory is from trace decay, not temporal distinctiveness. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 40(6):1510-1523.
Published online 2014 Jun 2. doi:  10.1037/xlm0000018

Vergauwe, E., & Cowan, N. (2014). Assessing and revising the plan for intelligence testing. Journal of Intelligence, 2(2): 29-32.
Published online 2014 Apr 4. doi:  10.3390/jintelligence2020029

Li, D., Christ, S.E., & Cowan, N. (2014). Domain-general and domain-specific functional networks in working memory. Neuroimage, 102(02): 646-656.
Published online 2014 Aug 27. doi:  10.1016/j.neuroimage.2014.08.028

Vergauwe, E., & Cowan, N. (2014). A common short-term memory retrieval rate may describe many cognitive procedures. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8 (article 126), 1-7.
Published online 2014 Mar 7. doi:  10.3389/fnhum.2014.00126

Lutfi-Proctor, D.A., Elliott, E.M., & Cowan, N. (2014). The role of visual stimuli in cross-modal stroop interference. PsyCh Journal, 3(1): 17-29.
doi: 10.1002/pchj.51

Ricker, T.J., & Cowan, N. (2014). Differences between presentation methods in working memory procedures: A matter of working memory consolidation. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 40(2): 417-428.
Published online 2013 Sep 23. doi:  10.1037/a0034301

Cowan, N. (2014). Working memory underpins cognitive development, learning, and education. Educational Psychology Review, 26(2), 197-223.
Published online 2013 Dec 3. doi:  10.1007/s10648-013-9246-y


Cowan, N., Donnell, K., & Saults, J.S. (2013). A list-length constraint on incidental item-to-item associations. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 20(6): 1253 -1258.
doi:  10.3758/s13423-013-0447-7

Cowan, N. (2013). Working memory. In H. Pashler (ed.), Encyclopedia of the mind. Sage.

Cowan, N., & Saults, J.S. (2013). When Does a Good Working Memory Counteract Proactive Interference? Surprising Evidence From a Probe Recognition Task. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 142(1): 12-17.
Published online 2012 Mar 19. doi:  10.1037/a0027804

Li, D., Cowan, N., & Saults, J.S. (2013). Estimating working memory capacity for lists of nonverbal sounds. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 75(1): 145-160.
doi:  10.3758/s13414-012-0383-z

Chen, Z., & Cowan, N. (2013). Working memory inefficiency: Minimal information is utilized in visual recognition tasks. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition, 39(5): 1449-1462.
Published online 2013 Feb 18. doi:  10.1037/a0031790

Cowan, N. (2013). Short-term and working memory in childhood. In P.J. Bauer and R. Fivush (eds.), Handbook on the development of children’s memory. Wiley-Blackwell.

Cowan, N., Blume, C.L., & Saults, J.S. (2013). Attention to attributes and objects in working memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology:Learning, Memory, and Cognition. 39(3): 731-747.
Published online 2012 Aug 20. doi:  10.1037/a0029687


Hackley, S.A., & Cowan, N. (2012). In memory of David G. McDonald, 1933-2012. Experimental Psychology Bulletin, 16, 13-14.

Cowan, N. (2012). Working memory: the seat of learning and comprehension. In Della Sala, S., & Anderson, M. (eds), Neuroscience in education: The good, the bad, and the ugly. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. (pp. 111-127).

Cowan, N., Rouder, J.N., Blume, C.L., & Saults, J.S. (2012). Models of verbal working memory capacity: What does it take to make them work? Psychological Review, 119(3): 480-499.
Published online 2012 Apr 9. doi:  10.1037/a0027791

Dewar, M., Alber, J., Butler, C., Cowan, N., & Della Sala, S. (2012). Brief wakeful resting boosts new memories over the long term. Psychological Science, 23, 955-960.

Dewar, M., Pesallaccia, M., Cowan, N., Provinciali, L., & Della Sala, S. (2012). Insights into spared memory capacity in amnestic MCI and Alzheimer's Disease via minimal interference. Brain and Cognition, 78, 189-199.

Gilchrist, A.L., & Cowan, N. (2012). Chunking. In V. Ramachandran (ed.) Encyclopedia of human behavior, Vol. 1.  San Diego: Academic Press. (pp. 476-483)

Cowan, N. (2012). Focused and divided attention to the eyes and ears: A research journey. In J.M. Wolfe & L. Robertson, Festschrift for Ann Treisman. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.

Becker, T. M., Cicero, D. C., Cowan, N., & Kerns, J. G. (2012). Cognitive control components and speech symptoms in people with schizophrenia. Psychiatry Research, 196(1): 20-26. 
Published online 2012 Feb 22. doi:  10.1016/j.psychres.2011.10.003


Gilchrist, A.L., & Cowan, N. (2011). Can the focus of attention accommodate multiple separate items? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 37(6): 1484-1502.
Published online 2011 Jul 18. doi:  10.1037/a0024352

Cowan, N., AuBuchon, A.M., Gilchrist, A.L., Ricker, T.J., & Saults, J.S. (2011). Age differences in visual working memory capacity: Not based on encoding limitations. Developmental Science, 14(5): 1066-1074.
Published online 2011 Jun 18. doi:  10.1111/j.1467-7687.2011.01060.x

Cowan, N. (2011). The focus of attention as observed in visual working memory tasks: Making sense of competing claims. Neuropsychologia, 49(6): 1401-1406
Published online 2011 Jan 26. doi:  10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.01.035

Rouder, J.N., Morey, R.D., Morey, C.C., & Cowan, N. (2011). How to measure working-memory capacity in the change-detection paradigm. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 18(2): 324-330.
Published online 2011 Feb 19. doi:  10.3758/s13423-011-0055-3

Cowan, N., Li, D., Moffitt, A., Becker, T.M., Martin, E.A., Saults, J.S., & Christ, S.E. (2011). A neural region of abstract working memory. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 23(10), 2852-2863.
Published online 2011 Jan 24. doi:  10.1162/jocn.2011.21625

Morey, C.C., Cowan, N., Morey, R.D., & Rouder, J.N. (2011). Flexible attention allocation to visual and auditory working memory tasks: Manipulating reward induces a tradeoff. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 73(2), 458–472.
Published online 2010 Nov 10. doi:  10.3758/s13414-010-0031-4

Cowan, N. (2011). Covert pronunciation and rehearsal. In N.M. Seel (ed.), Encyclopedia of the sciences of learning. Springer: Heidelberg, Germany. DOI 10.1007/978-1-4419-1428-6.

Cowan, N., Morey, C.C., AuBuchon, A.M., Zwilling, C.E., Gilchrist, A.L., & Saults, J.S. (2011). New insights into an old problem: Distinguishing storage from processing in the development of working memory. In P. Barrouillet & V. Gaillard (eds.), Cognitive development and working memory: A dialogue between neo-Piagetian theories and cognitive approaches. Hove, UK: Psychology Press. (pp. 137-150)

Cowan, N. (2011). Working memory and attention in language use. In J. Guendouzi, F. Loncke, & M.J. Williams (eds.), The Handbook of psycholinguistic and cognitive processes: Perspectives in communication disorders. New York: Taylor & Francis. (pp. 75-97)


Cowan, N., Hismjatullina, A., AuBuchon, A.M., Saults, J.S., Horton, N., Leadbitter, K., & Towse, J. (2010). With development, list recall includes more chunks, not just larger ones. Developmental Psychology, 46(5): 1119-1131.
doi:  10.1037/a0020618

Lee, E., Cowan, N., Vogel, E.K., Rolan, T., Valle-Inclán, F., & Hackley, S.A. (2010). Visual working memory deficits in Parkinson’s patients are due to both reduced storage capacity and impaired ability to filter out irrelevant information. Brain, 133(9), 2677-2689.
Published online 2010 Aug 5. doi:  10.1093/brain/awq197

Ricker, T.J., & Cowan, N. (2010). Loss of visual working memory within seconds: The combined use of refreshable and non-refreshable features. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 36(6): 1355-1368
doi:  10.1037/a0020356

Ricker, T.J., Cowan, N., & Morey, C.C. (2010). Visual working memory is disrupted by covert verbal retrieval. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 17(4): 516-521.
doi:  10.3758/PBR.17.4.516

Dewar, M., Della Sala, S., Beschin, N., & Cowan, N. (2010). Profound retroactive interference in anterograde amnesia: What interferes? Neuropsychology, 24(3), 357-367.
doi:  10.1037/a0018207

Cowan, N. (2010). Multiple concurrent thoughts: The meaning and developmental neuropsychology of working memory. Developmental Neuropsychology, 35(5), 447-474.
doi:  10.1080/87565641.2010.494985

Ricker, T.J., AuBuchon, A., & Cowan, N. (2010). Working memory. In L. Nadel (Ed.), Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science, 1, 573-585.

Cowan, N. (2010). The magical mystery four: How is working memory capacity limited, and why? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 19(1): 51-57.
doi:  10.1177/0963721409359277

Gilchrist, A.L., & Cowan, N. (2010). Conscious and unconscious aspects of working memory. In I. Winkler & I. Czigler (eds.), Unconscious memory representations in perception: Processes and mechanisms in the brain. Advances in Consciousness research. Vol. 78. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. (Pp. 1-35)

Dewar, M.T., Della Sala, S., & Cowan, N. (2010). Forgetting due to retroactive interference in amnesia: Findings and implications. In S. Della Sala, Forgetting. Current Issues in Memory. Psychology Press. (Pp. 185-209)

Cowan, N., Morey, C.C., AuBuchon, A.M., Zwilling, C.E., & Gilchrist, A.L. (2010). Seven-year-olds allocate attention like adults unless working memory is overloaded. Developmental Science, 13(1), 120-133.
doi:  10.1111/j.1467-7687.2009.00864.x


Cowan, N. (5 November, 2009). Disproving myself. Psychology Today, web log (listed as an Essential Read on the Psychology Today web site, 5 November 2009).

Gilchrist, A.L., Cowan, N., & Naveh-Benjamin, M. (2009). Investigating the childhood development of working memory using sentences: New evidence for the growth of chunk capacity. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 104(2): 252-265.
Published online 2009 Jun 17. doi:  10.1016/j.jecp.2009.05.006

Cowan, N. (2009). Capacity limits and consciousness. In T. Baynes, A. Cleeremans, & P. Wilken (Eds.), Oxford Companion to Consciousness (pp. 127-130).  New York: Oxford University. 

Cowan, N. (2009, February 23). By their bootstraps: Brain imaging in the Show-Me State. RT Image, 22(8), 1-4.

Cowan, N. (2009, March). President's Message: A Brief History of Experimental Psychology, 1850 - 2125. The Experimental Psychology Bulletin, 13, 1.

Cowan, N., & Rouder, J.N. (2009, February 13). Comment on "Dynamic Shifts of Limited Working Memory Resources in Human Vision". Science, 323(5916): 877.
doi:  10.1126/science.1166478

Cowan, N. (2009). Sensory and Immediate Memory. In W.P. Banks (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Consciousness.(Vol.2, pp. 327-339).  Oxford: Elsevier.
[For a copy of this article, write to CowanN@missouri.edu.]

Cowan, N. (2009). Working Memory from the Trailing Edge of Consciousness to Neurons. [Review of T. Klingberg,The Overflowing Brain: Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory].  Neuron, 62, 13 - 16. 

Cowan, N., & Alloway, T. (2009). Development of Working Memory In Childhood. In M.L. Courage & N. Cowan (Eds.), The development of memory in infancy and childhood.  Hove, East Sussex, UK: Psychology Press, 303-342.

Cowan, N., & Chen, Z. (2009). How chunks form in long-term memory and affect short-term memory limits. In A. Thorn & M. Page (Eds.), Interactions between short-term and long-term memory in the verbal domain (pp. 86-101). Hove, East Sussex, UK: Psychology Press.

Chen, Z., & Cowan, N. (2009). How verbal memory loads consume attention. Memory & Cognition, 37(6): 829-836.
doi:  10.3758/MC.37.6.829

Dewar, M., Fernandez Garcia, Y., Cowan, N., & Della Sala, S. (2009). Delaying interference enhances memory consolidation in amnesic patients. Neuropsychology, 23(5): 627-634. 
doi:  10.1037/a0015568

Chen, Z., & Cowan, N. (2009). Core verbal working-memory capacity: The limit in words retained without covert articulation. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 62(7): 1420–1429.
Published online 2008 Dec 1. doi:  10.1080/17470210802453977


Cowan, N. (2008, March). Autobiography of the president-elect. The Experimental Psychology Bulletin, 12, #1. 

Cowan, N. (2008, June/July). The rest of the story: The size of thought. Scientific American Mind, 32-35. [Commentary on McCollough & Vogel, "Your inner spam filter: What makes you so smart? Might be your lizard brain."

Cowan, N. (2008, September). Arrogance, social consensus, and experimental psychology. APA Division 3 presidential essay. The Experimental Psychology Bulletin, 12(2).

Cowan, N., & AuBuchon, A.M. (2008). Short-term memory loss over time without retroactive stimulus interference. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 15(1): 230-235.
No doi number listed

Cowan, N. (2008).  Sensory Memory.  In H. L. Roediger, III (Ed.) & J. Byrne (Vol. Ed.), Cognitive Psychology of Memory:  Vol. 2. Learning and Memory: A Comprehensive Reference, 4 vols. (pp. 23-32). Oxford: Elsevier.
[For a copy of this article, write to CowanN@missouri.edu.]

Cowan, N. (2008).  Working Memory.  In N.J. Salkind (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Educational Psychology (Vol. 2, pp. 1015-1016).  London:Sage Publications.

Cowan, N. (2008).  What are the differences between long-term, short-term, and working memory? In W.S. Sossin, J.-C. Lacaille, V.F. Castellucci & S. Belleville (Eds.), Progress in Brain Research: Vol. 169. Essence of Memory (pp. 323-338). Amsterdam: Elsevier B.V.
doi:  10.1016/S0079-6123(07)00020-9

Cowan, N., Morey, C.C., Chen, Z., Gilchrist, A.L., & Saults, J.S. (2008). Theory and measurement of working memory capacity limits. In B.H. Ross (Ed.), The Psychology of Learning and Motivation (Vol. 49, pp. 49-104). Amsterdam: Elsevier B.V.

Gilchrist, A.L., Cowan, N., & Naveh-Benjamin, M. (2008). Working memory capacity for spoken sentences decreases with adult aging: Recall of fewer, but not smaller chunks in older adults. Memory, 16(7): 773-787.
doi:  10.1080/09658210802261124

Rouder, J.N., Morey, R.D., Cowan, N., Zwilling, C.E., Morey, C.C., & Pratte, M.S. (2008). An assessment of fixed-capacity models of visual working memory. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA (PNAS), 105(16): 5975–5979.
Published online 2008 Apr 17. doi:  10.1073/pnas.0711295105

Towse, J.N., Cowan, N., Horton, N.J., & Whytock, S. (2008). Task experience and children's working memory performance: A perspective from recall timing. Developmental Psychology, 44(3): 695-706.
doi:  10.1037/0012-1649.44.3.695

Towse, J.N., Cowan, N., Hitch, G.J., & Horton, N.J. (2008). The recall of information from working memory: Insights from behavioural and chronometric perspectives. Experimental Psychology, 55(6): 371-383.
doi:  10.1027/1618-3169.55.6.371

Bunting, M.F., Cowan, N., & Colflesh, G.H. (2008). The deployment of attention in short-term memory tasks: Tradeoffs between immediate and delayed deployment. Memory & Cognition, 36(4): 799-812.
No doi number listed

Shelton, J.T., Elliott, E.M., Cowan, N. (2008). Attention and working memory: Tools for understanding consciousness. Psyche, 14(1).


Halford, G.S., Cowan, N., & Andrews, G. (2007). Separating cognitive capacity from knowledge: A new hypothesis. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 11(6): 236-242.
Published online 2007 May 1. doi:  10.1016/j.tics.2007.04.001

Saults, J.S., Cowan, N., Sher, K.J., & Moreno, M.V. (2007). Differential effects of alcohol on working memory: Distinguishing multiple processes. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 15(6): 576–587
doi:  10.1037/1064-1297.15.6.576

Saults, J.S., & Cowan, N. (2007). A central capacity limit to the simultaneous storage of visual and auditory arrays in working memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 136(4):  663-684.
doi:  10.1037/0096-3445.136.4.663

Cowan, N., & Morey, C.C. (2007). How can dual-task working memory retention limits be investigated? Psychological Science, 18(8):  686-688.
doi:  10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.01960.x

Cowan, N. (2007). What can infants tell us about working memory development? In L.M. Oakes & P.J. Bauer (Eds.), Short- and long- term memory in infancy and early childhood: Taking the first steps toward remembering. (pp. 126-150). New York: Oxford University Press.

Dewar, M.T., Cowan, N., & Della Sala, S. (2007). Forgetting due to retroactive interference: A fusion of Müller and Pilzecker’s (1900) early insights into everyday forgetting and recent research on anterograde amnesia. Cortex, 43(5):  616-634.
No doi number listed

Naveh-Benjamin, M., Cowan, N., Kilb, A., & Chen, Z. (2007). Age-related differences in immediate serial recall: Dissociating chunk formation and capacity. Memory & Cognition, 35(4):  724-737.
No doi number listed

Cowan, N., Morey, C.C., Chen, Z., & Bunting, M.F. (2007). What do estimates of working memory capacity tell us? In N. Osaka, R. Logie, & M. D’Esposito (Eds.), The cognitive neuroscience of working memory: Behavioral and neural correlates (pp. 43-58). Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.  

Cowan, N., Morey, C.C., & Chen, Z. (2007). The legend of the magical number seven. In S. Della Sala (Ed.), Tall tales about the mind & brain: Separating fact from fiction (pp. 45-59). Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.


Bunting, M.F., Cowan, N., & Saults, J.S. (2006). How does running memory span work? Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 59(10):  1691-1700.
doi:  10.1080/17470210600848402

Cowan, N., Saults, J.S., & Morey, C.C. (2006). Development of working memory for verbal-spatial associations. Journal of Memory and Language, 55(2):  274-289.
doi:  10.1016/j.jml.2006.04.002

Cowan, N., & Morey, C.C. (2006). Visual working memory depends on attentional filtering. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 10(4):  139-141.
Published online 2006 Feb 23. doi:  10.1016/j.tics.2006.02.001 

Cowan, N., Fristoe, N.M., Elliott, E.M., Brunner, R.P., & Saults, J.S. (2006). Scope of attention, control of attention, and intelligence in children and adults. Memory & Cognition, 34(8):  1754-1768.
No doi number listed

Cowan, N., Kane, M.J., Conway, A.R.A., & Ispa-Cowan, A.J. (2006). Stupid brain! Homer’s working memory odyssey. In A. Brown, The psychology of the Simpsons: D'Oh! (pp. 49-64). Dallas: BenBella Books. 

Cowan, N., Naveh-Benjamin, M., Kilb, A., & Saults, J.S. (2006). Life-Span development of visual working memory: When is feature binding difficult? Developmental Psychology, 42(6):  1089-1102.
doi:  10.1037/0012-1649.42.6.1089 

Cowan, N., Elliott, E.M., Saults, J.S., Nugent, L.D., Bomb, P., & Hismjatullina, A. (2006). Rethinking speed theories of cognitive development: Increasing the rate of recall without affecting accuracy. Psychological Science, 17(1):  67-73.
doi:  10.1111/j.1467-9280.2005.01666.x

Cowan, N. (2006). Within fluid cognition: Fluid processing and fluid storage? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 29(2), 129-130. Commentary on C. Blair target article.

Elliott, E.M., Barrilleaux, K.M., & Cowan, N. (2006). Individual differences in the ability to avoid distracting sounds. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 18(1), 90-108.


Chen, Z., & Cowan, N. (2005). Chunk limits and length limits in immediate recall: A reconciliation. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 31(6):  1235-1249.
doi:  10.1037/0278-7393.31.6.1235

Cowan, N., Elliott, E.M., Saults, J.S., Morey, C.C., Mattox, S., Hismjatullina, A., & Conway, A.R.A. (2005). On the capacity of attention: Its estimation and its role in working memory and cognitive aptitudes. Cognitive Psychology, 51(1):  42-100.
Published online 2005 Mar 2. doi:  10.1016/j.cogpsych.2004.12.001

Cowan, N., Johnson, T.D., & Saults, J.S. (2005). Capacity limits in list item recognition: Evidence from proactive interference. Memory, 13(3/4), 293-299.

Yiend, J., Mathews, A., & Cowan, N. (2005). Selective attention tasks in clinical and cognitive research. In A. Wenzel and D.C. Rubin (Eds.), Cognitive methods and their application to clinical research (pp. 65 – 71). Washington, D.C.: APA Books.

Cowan, N. (2005). Selective attention tasks in cognitive research. In A. Wenzel and D.C. Rubin (Eds.), Cognitive methods and their application to clinical research (pp. 73 – 96). Washington, D.C.: APA Books.

Morey, C.C., & Cowan, N. (2005). When do visual and verbal memories conflict? The importance of working-memory load and retrieval. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 31(4):  703-713.
doi:  10.1037/0278-7393.31.4.703

Bunting, M.F., & Cowan, N. (2005). Working memory and flexibility in awareness and attention. Psychological Research, 69(5-6):  412-419.
Published online 2005 Apr 26. doi:  10.1007/s00426-004-0204-7

Elliott, E.M., & Cowan, N. (2005). Coherence of the irrelevant-sound effect: Individual profiles of short-term memory and susceptibility to task-irrelevant materials. Memory & Cognition, 33(4):  664-675.
No doi number listed

Cowan, N. (2005). Understanding intelligence: A summary and an adjustable-attention hypothesis. In O. Wilhelm & R.W. Engle (Eds.), Handbook of understanding and measuring intelligence (pp. 469-488). London: Sage.

Winkler, I., & Cowan, N. (2005). From sensory to long term memory: Evidence from auditory memory reactivation studies. Experimental Psychology, 52(1), 3-20.

Della Sala, S., Cowan, N., Beschin, N., & Perini, M. (2005). Just lying there, remembering: Improving recall of prose in amnesic patients with mild cognitive impairment by minimizing interference. Memory, 13(3/4), 435-440.

Towse, J., & 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: Erlbaum.

Cowan, N. (2005). Working-memory capacity limits in a theoretical context. In C. Izawa & N. Ohta (Eds.), Human learning and memory: Advances In theory and applications (pp. 155-175). The 4th Tsukuba international conference on memory. Erlbaum.


Jarrold, C., Cowan, N., Hewes, A.K., & Riby, D.M. (2004). Speech timing and verbal short-term memory: Evidence for contrasting deficits in Down syndrome and Williams syndrome. Journal of Memory and Language, 51, 365-380. 

Cowan, N., Beschin, N., & Della Sala, S. (2004). Verbal recall in amnesiacs under conditions of diminished retroactive interference. Brain, 127, 825-834.

Cowan, N., Saults, J.S., & Brown, G.D.A. (2004). On the auditory modality superiority effect in serial recall: Separating input and output factors. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 30, 639-644.

Rouder, J.N., Morey, R.D., Cowan, N., & Pfaltz, M. (2004). Learning in a unidimensional absolute identification task. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 11, 938-944.

Cowan, N., Chen, Z., & Rouder, J.N. (2004). Constant capacity in an immediate serial-recall task: A logical sequel to Miller (1956). Psychological Science, 15, 634-640. 

Morey, C.C., & Cowan, N. (2004). When visual and verbal memories compete: Evidence of cross-domain limits in working memory. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 11, 296-301.

Cowan, N. (2004). On the psychophysics of memory. In C. Kaernbach, E. Schröger, & H. Müller (Eds.), Psychophysics beyond sensation: Laws and invariants of human cognition(pp. 313-319). Scientific Psychology Series. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.


Cowan, N.  (2003).  Varieties of procedural accounts of working memory retention systems.  Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 26, 731-732.  (Commentary on target article by Ruchkin et al.)

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, 113-132.

Cowan, N. (2003).  Comparisons of developmental modeling frameworks and levels of analysis in cognition:  Connectionist and dynamic systems theories deserve attention, but don't yet explain attention.  In J.P. Spencer & E. Thelen (Eds.) (2002).  Connectionism and dynamic systems approaches to development [Special issue].  Developmental Science, 6, 440-447. 

Cowan, N. (2003).  Preserving the spirit and respect of academia through traditions.  APS Observer, 16, 10.  (American Psychological Society)

Gardiner, J.M., & Cowan, N. (2003).  Modality effects.  In J.H. Byrne, H. Eichenbaum, H.Roediger III, & R.F. Thompson (Eds.), Learning and Memory (2nd ed., pp. 397-400).  New York, NY:  Macmillan.

Cowan, N., Baddeley, A.D., Elliott, E.M., & Norris, J. (2003). List composition and the word length effect in immediate recall: A comparison of localist and globalist assumptions. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 10, 74-79.

Crowder, R.G., & Cowan, N. (2003). Sensory memory. Revision by N. Cowan of first-edition entry by Robert G. Crowder. In J.H. Byrne, H. Eichenbaum, H.Roediger III, & R.F. Thompson (Eds.), Learning and Memory (2nd ed., pp. 607-609). Macmillan.


Cowan, N. (2002). Childhood development of working memory: An examination of two basic parameters. In P. Graf and N. Ohta, Lifespan development of human memory(pp. 39 - 57). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Winkler, I., Korzyukov, O., Gumenyuk, V., Cowan, N., Linkenkaer-Hansen, K., Ilmoniemi, R.J., Alho, K., & Näätänen, R. (2002). Temporary and longer term retention of acoustic information. Psychophysiology, 39, 530-534.

Cowan, N. (2002). Experimental psychology and its implications for human development. Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS). Oxford, U.K.

Conway, A.R.A., Cowan, N., Bunting, M.F., Therriault, D.J., & Minkoff, S.R.B. (2002). A latent variable analysis of working memory capacity, short-term memory capacity, processing speed, and general fluid intelligence. Intelligence, 30, 163-183.

Cowan, N., Saults, J.S., & Elliott, E.M.. (2002). The search for what is fundamental in the development of working memory. In R. Kail & H. Reese (Eds.), Advances in Child Development and Behavior, 29, 1-49.

Cowan, N., Saults, J.S., Elliott, E.M., & Moreno, M. (2002). Deconfounding serial recall. Journal of Memory and Language, 46, 153-177. 


Cowan, N. (2000/01). Processing limits of selective attention and working memory: Potential implications for interpreting. Interpreting, 5, 117-146.

Cowan, N. (2001). The magical number 4 in short-term memory: A reconsideration of mental storage capacity. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 24, 87-185.  
*Included in the above: Cowan, N. (2001). Metatheory of storage capacity limits. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 24, 154-176. (Reply to commentaries)

Elliott, E.M., & Cowan, N. (2001). Habituation to auditory distractors in a cross-modal, color-word interference task. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition, 27, 654-667.

Conway, R.A., Cowan, N., & Bunting, M.F. (2001). The cocktail party phenomenon revisited: The importance of working memory capacity. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 8, 331-335.

Cowan, N., Saults, S., & Nugent, L. (2001). The ravages of absolute and relative amounts of time on memory. In H.L. Roediger III, J.S. Nairne, I. Neath, & A. Surprenant (Eds.), The nature of remembering: Essays in honor of Robert G. Crowder (pp. 315 - 330). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Winkler, I., Schröger, E., & Cowan, N. (2001). The role of large-scale memory organization in the mismatch negativity event-related brain potential. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 13, 59-71.


Gomes, H., Molholm, S., Ritter, W., Kurtzberg, D., Cowan, N., & Vaughan, Jr., H.G. (2000). Mismatch negativity in children and adults, and effects of an attended task. Psychophysiology, 37, 807-816.

Cowan, N., Rouder, J.N., & Stadler, M.A. (2000). Conjuring a work from the dream time of cognitive psychology. American Journal of Psychology, 113, 639-671.

Cowan, N. (2000). Childhood development of some basic parameters of working memory. In E. Schröger, A. Mecklinger, & A.D. Friederici (Eds.), Working on working memory. Leipzig Series in Cognitive Sciences 1. Leipzig: Leipziger Universitätsverlag.

Cowan, N., Nugent, L.D., Elliott, E.M., & Saults, J.S. (2000). Persistence of memory for ignored lists of digits: Areas of developmental constancy and change. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 76, 151-172.

Gomes, H., Molholm, Christodoulou, C., Ritter, W. & Cowan, N. (2000). The development of auditory attention in children. Frontiers in Bioscience, 5, 108-120.

Cowan, N., Nugent, L.D., Elliott, E.M., and Geer, T. (2000). Is there a temporal basis of the word length effect? A response to Service (1998). Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 53A(3), 647-660.

Cowan, N., Nugent, L.D., & Elliott, E.M. (2000). Memory-search and rehearsal processes and the word length effect in immediate recall: A synthesis in reply to Service. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 53A(3), 666-670. 

Brunner, R., & Cowan, N. (2000, Fall). The role of attention in the development of working memory. McNair Journal.


Cowan, N., Saults, J.S., Nugent, L.D., & Elliott, E.M. (1999). The microanalysis of memory span and its development in childhood. International Journal of Psychology, 34, 353-358. (Special Quebec Memory Conference issue)

Cowan, N. (1999). An embedded-processes model of working memory. In A. Miyake & P. Shah (Eds.), Models of Working Memory: Mechanisms of active maintenance and executive control(pp. 62-101). Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Rinne, T., Gratton, G., Fabiani, M., Cowan, N., Maclin, E., Stinard, A., Sinkkonen, J., Alho, K., & Näätänen, R. (1999). Scalp-recorded optical signals make sound processing in the auditory cortex visible. Neuroimage, 10, 620-624.

Ritter, W., Sussman, E., Deacon, D., Cowan, N., & Vaughan, H.G. (1999). Two cognitive systems simultaneously prepared for opposite events. Psychophysiology, 36, 835-838.

Cowan, N. (1999). The differential maturation of two processing rates related to digit span. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 72, 193-209. 

Hulme, C., Newton, P., Cowan, N., Stuart, G., & Brown, G. (1999). Think before you speak: pause, memory search and trace redintegration processes in verbal memory span. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 25, 447-463. 

Mueser, P.R., Cowan, N., & Mueser, K.T. (1999). A generalized signal detection model to explain rational variation in base rate use. Cognition, 69, 267-312.

Cowan, N., Nugent, L.D., Elliott, E.M., Ponomarev, I., & Saults, J.S. (1999). The role of attention in the development of short-term memory: Age differences in the verbal span of apprehension. Child Development, 70, 1082-1097.

March, L., Cienfuegos, A., Goldbloom, L., Ritter, W., Cowan, N., & Javitt, D.C. (1999). Normal time course of auditory recognition in schizophrenia, despite impaired precision of the auditory sensory ("echoic") memory code.Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 108, 69-75. 

Gomes, H., Sussman, E., Ritter, W., Kurtzberg, D., Cowan, N., & Vaughan Jr., H.G. (1999). Electrophysiological evidence of developmental changes in the duration of auditory sensory memory. Developmental Psychology, 35, 294-302.

Cowan, N. (1998). Evidence against the global speed of processing theory of working memory. In M.A. Gernsbacher & S.J. Derry (Eds.), Proceedings of the twentieth annual conference of the Cognitive Science Society (p. 1211). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Cowan, N. (1998). Children's memories according to fuzzy-trace theory: An endorsement of the theory's purpose and some suggestions to improve its application. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 71, 144-154.

Cowan, N. (1998). What is more explanatory, processing capacity or processing speed? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 21, 835-836. (Commentary on target article by Graham Halford)

Cowan, N. (1998). Five enigmas regarding LaBerge's (1997) triangular-circuit theory of attention and self-referential theory of awareness. Psyche, 4 (08). (Note: This is a web journal.)

Cowan, N. (1998). Visual and auditory working memory capacity. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 2, 77-78. 

Ritter, W., Gomes, H., Cowan, N., Sussman, E., & Vaughan, H.G., Jr. (1998). Reactivation of a dormant representation of an auditory stimulus feature. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 10, 605-614. [abstract]

Saults, J.S., & Cowan, N. (1998) . Developmental and individual differences in short-term memory. In N. Raz (Ed.), The other side of the error term: Aging and development as model systems in cognitive neuroscience (pp. 155-196). Amsterdam: Elsevier.
[For a copy of this article, write to CowanN@missouri.edu.]

Gillam, R., Cowan, N., & Marler, J. (1998). Information processing by school-age children with specific language impairment: Evidence from a modality effect paradigm. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 41, 913-926.

Cowan, N., Wood, N.L., Wood, P.K., Keller, T.A., Nugent, L.D., & Keller, C.V. (1998) . Two separate verbal processing rates contributing to short-term memory span. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 127, 141-160. 

Elliott, E.M., Cowan, N., & Valle-Inclan, F. (1998). The nature of cross-modal, color-word interference effects. Perception & Psychophysics, 60, 761-767.

Cowan, N., Saults, J.S., & Nugent, L.D. (1997). The role of absolute and relative amounts of time in forgetting within immediate memory: The case of tone pitch comparisons. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 4, 393-397.

Cowan, N., & Wood, N.L. (1997). Constraints on awareness, attention, processing and memory: Some recent investigations with ignored speech. Consciousness and Cognition, 6, 182-203.

Wood, N.L., Stadler, M.A., & Cowan, N. (1997). Is there implicit memory without attention? A re-examination of task demands in Eich's (1984) procedure. Memory & Cognition, 25, 772-779.

Cowan, N., Wood, N.L., Nugent, L.D., & Treisman, M. (1997). There are two word length effects in verbal short-term memory: Opposed effects of duration and complexity. Psychological Science, 8, 290-295.

Javitt, D.C., Strous, R., Grochowski, S., Ritter, W., & Cowan, N. (1997). Impaired precision, but normal retention, of auditory sensory ("echoic") memory information in schizophrenia. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 106, 315-324.

Cowan, N. (1997). The development of working memory. In N. Cowan (Ed.), The development of memory in childhood. Hove, East Sussex, UK: Psychology Press.

Cowan, N., & Kail, R. (1996). Covert processes and their development in short-term memory. In S. Gathercole (Ed.), Models of short-term memory (pp. 29-50). Hove, U.K: Erlbaum Associates, Ltd. 

Cowan, N. (1996). Can we resolve contradictions between process dissociation models? Consciousness and Cognition, 5, 255-259.

Cowan, N., & Stadler, M.A. (1996). Estimating unconscious processes: Implications of a general class of models. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 125, 195-200. 

Saults, J.S., & Cowan, N. (1996). The development of memory for ignored speech. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 63, 239-261. [ abstract]

Cowan, N. (1996). Short-term memory, working memory, and their importance in language processing. Topics in language disorders, 17, 1-18. [Special issue: K.G. Butler & R.B. Gillam (Eds.), Working memory and language impairment: New perspectives.] To be reprinted in 1998 within Memory and language impairment in children and adults: New perspectives. Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen Publishers.

Multhaup, K.S., Balota, D.A., & Cowan, N. (1996). Implications of aging, lexicality, and item length for the mechanisms underlying memory span. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 3, 112-120.

Winkler, I., Cowan, N., Csépe, V., Czigler, I., & Näätänen, R. (1996). Interactions between transient and long-term auditory memory as reflected by the mismatch negativity. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 8, 403-415.

Javitt, D.C., Strous, R., Cowan, N., & Ritter, W. (1995). Behavioral evidence for auditory sensory ("echoic") memory dysfunction in schizophrenia. American Journal of Psychiatry, Oct;152(10):1517-9.

Wood, N., & Cowan, N. (1995). The cocktail party phenomenon revisited: Attention and memory in the classic selective listening procedure of Cherry (1953). Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 124, 243-262.

Cowan, N., & Greenspahn, E. (1995). Timed reactions to an object in apparent motion: Evidence on Cartesian and non-Cartesian perceptual hypotheses. Perception & Psychophysics, 57, 546-554. [ abstract]

Cowan, N. (1995). Memory theories from A to Z. Contemporary Psychology, 40, 552-555. (Review of Theories of Memory, edited by A.F. Collins, S.E. Gathercole, M.A. Conway, & P.E. Morris)

Keller, T.A., Cowan, N., & Saults, J.S. (1995). Can auditory memory for tone pitch be rehearsed? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition, 21, 635-645.

Gillam, R.B., Cowan, N., & Day, L.S. (1995). Sequential memory in children with and without language impairment. Journal of Speech & Hearing Research, 38, 393-402.

Cowan, N. (1995). Verbal working memory: A view with a room. American Journal of Psychology, 108, 123-155. (Review of Working memory and language by S. Gathercole & A. Baddeley)

Wood, N., & Cowan, N. (1995). The cocktail party phenomenon revisited: How frequent are attention shifts to one's name in an irrelevant auditory channel? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition, 21, 255-260.

Cowan, N., & Saults, J.S. (1995). Memory for speech. In H. Winitz (Ed.), Human communication and its disorders: Vol. 4 (pp. 81 - 170). Timonium, MD: York Press.

Cowan, N. (1994). Sensory memory and its role in information processing. In G. Karmos, M. Molnár, V. Csépe, I. Czigler, & J.E. Desmedt (Eds.), Perspectives of event-related potential research (Electroencephalography & Clinical Neurophysiology Supplement 44 (pp. 21-31). New York: Elsevier Science Publishers.
[For a copy of this article, write to CowanN@missouri.edu.]

Cowan, N. (1994).Mechanisms of verbal short-term memory. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 3, 185-189.

Keller, T.A., & Cowan, N. (1994). Developmental increase in the duration of memory for tone pitch. Developmental Psychology, 30, 855-863.

Cowan, N., Keller, T., Hulme, C., Roodenrys, S., McDougall, S., & Rack, J. (1994). Verbal memory span in children: Speech timing clues to the mechanisms underlying age and word length effects. Journal of Memory and Language, 33, 234-250.

Cowan, N., Wood, N.L., & Borne, D.N. (1994).Reconfirmation of the short-term storage concept. Psychological Science, 5, 103-106.

Braine, M.D.S., Brooks, P.J., Cowan, N., Samuels, M.C., & Tamis-LeMonda, C. (1993). The Development of categories at the semantics/syntax interface. Cognitive Development, 8, 465-494.

Cowan, N., Winkler, I., Teder, W., & Näätänen, R. (1993). Memory prerequisites of the mismatch negativity in the auditory event-related potential (ERP). Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition, 19, 909-921.

Massaro, D.W., & Cowan, N. (1993). Information processing models: Microscopes of the mind. Annual Review of Psychology, 44, 383-425.

Cowan, N. (1993). Activation, attention, and short-term memory. Memory & Cognition, 21, 162-167. (Reprinted from Readings in Cognitive Psychology, by R.J. Sternberg & R.K. Wagner, Eds., 1999, Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace College Publishers)

Cowan, N., & Leavitt, L.A. (1992). Speakers' access to the phonological structure of the syllable in word games. In M. Ziolkowski, M. Noske, & K. Deaton (Eds.), Papers from the 26th Regional Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society: Vol. 2. The Parasession On the Syllable in Phonetics and Phonology. Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society.

Cowan, N. (1992). Verbal memory span and the timing of spoken recall. Journal of Memory and Language, 31, 668-684.

Cowan, N., Day, L., Saults, J.S., Keller, T.A., Johnson, T., & Flores, L. (1992). The role of verbal output time in the effects of word length on immediate memory. Journal of Memory and Language, 31, 1-17.

Cowan, N. (1991). Neuropsychology and mental structure: Where do we go from here? Behavioral & Brain Sciences, 14, 445-446. (Invited commentary on source article by T. Shallice.)

Cowan, N. (1991).Recurrent speech patterns as cues to the segmentation of multisyllabic sequences. Acta Psychologica, 77, 121-135. [ abstract]

Cowan, N., Saults, J.S., Winterowd, C., & Sherk, M. (1991). Enhancement of 4-year-old children's memory span for phonologically similar and dissimilar word lists. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 51, 30-52. [ abstract]

Balota, D.A., Cowan, N., & Engle, R.W. (1990). Suffix interference in the recall of linguistically coherent speech. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition, 16, 446-456. 

Cowan, N. (1990). Converging evidence about information processing. Behavioral & Brain Sciences, 13, 237-238. (Invited commentary on a source article by R. Naatanen)

Cowan, N., Lichty, W., & Grove, T.R. (1990). Properties of memory for unattended spoken syllables. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition, 16, 258-269.

Cowan, N. (1989). Speech perception by ear, eye, hand, and mind. Behavioral & Brain Sciences, 12, 759-760. (Invited commentary on a source article by D. W. Massaro)

Cowan, N. (1989). Acquisition of Pig Latin: A Case Study. Journal of Child Language, 16, 365-386. 

Cowan, N. (1989). The reality of cross-modal Stroop effects. Perception & Psychophysics, 45, 87-88.

Cowan, N. (1989).A reply to Miles, Madden, and Jones: Mistakes and other flaws in the challenge to the cross-modal Stroop effect. Perception & Psychophysics, 45, 82-84.

Cowan, N. (1988). Evolving conceptions of memory storage, selective attention, and their mutual constraints within the human information processing system. Psychological Bulletin, 104, 163-191.

Cowan, N., Lichty, W., & Grove, T. (1988). Memory for unattended speech during silent reading. In M. M. Gruneberg, P. E. Morris, & R. N. Sykes (Eds.), Practical aspects of memory: Current research and issues: Vol. 2. NY: Wiley & Sons.

Cowan, N., Cartwright, C., Winterowd, C., & Sherk, M. (1987). An adult model of preschool children's speech memory. Memory and Cognition, 15, 511-517.

Cowan, N., & Barron, A. (1987). Cross-modal, auditory-visual Stroop interference and possible implications for speech memory. Perception & Psychophysics, 41, 393-401.

Cowan, N., & Leavitt, L. A. (1987). The developmental course of two children who could talk backward five years ago. Journal of Child Language, 14, 393-395.

Cowan, N. (1987). Auditory sensory storage in relation to the growth of sensation and acoustic information extraction. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 13, 204-215. [abstract]

Cowan, N. (1987). Auditory memory: Procedures to examine two phases. In W. A. Yost & C. S. Watson (Eds.), Auditory processing of complex sounds. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Cowan, N. (1986). A matrix of consonant-cluster-free monosyllabic words in English. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, and Computers, 18, 434-446.

Cowan, N., & Kielbasa, L. (1986). Temporal properties of memory for speech in preschool children. Memory & Cognition, 14, 382-390.

Cowan, N., & Morse, P. A. (1986). The use of auditory and phonetic memory in vowel discrimination. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 79, 500-507.

Cowan, N., Braine, M. D. S., & Leavitt, L. A. (1986). Identifying phonemes and syllables: Evidence from people who rapidly reorder speech. University of Massachusetts Occasional Papers in Linguistics, 9, 1-39.

Cowan, N., Braine, M. D. S., & Leavitt, L. A. (1985). The phonological and metaphonological representation of speech: Evidence from fluent backward talkers. Journal of Memory and Language, 24, 679-698. 

Cowan, N. (1984). On short and long auditory stores. Psychological Bulletin, 96, 341-370. 

Cowan, N., & Davidson, G. (1984). Salient childhood memories. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 145, 101-107.

Goodsitt, J., Morse, P., Ver Hoeve, J., & Cowan, N. (1984). Infant speech recognition in multisyllabic contexts. Child Development, 55, 903-910. 

Cowan, N., & Leavitt, L. A. (1983). Talking backward: Speech play in late childhood. In C. L. Thew & E. L. Johnson (Eds.), Proceedings of the Second International Congress for the Study of Child Language: Vol. 2. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Cowan, N., Suomi, K., & Morse, P. A. (1982). Echoic storage in infant perception. Child Development, 53, 984-990. 

Petrovich-Bartell, N., Cowan, N., & Morse, P. A. (1982). Mothers' perceptions of infant distress vocalizations. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 25, 371-376. [ abstract ]

Cowan, N., Leavitt, L. A., Massaro, D. W., & Kent, R. D. (1982). A fluent backward talker. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 25, 48-53.

Cowan, N., & Leavitt, L. A. (1982). Talking backward: Exceptional speech play in late childhood. Journal of Child Language, 9, 481-495.

Petrovich-Bartell, N., Cowan, N., & Morse, P. A. (1982). Perceptual and acoustic attributes of infant distress vocalizations. In C. L. Thew & E. L. Johnson (Eds.), Proceedings of the Second International Congress for the Study of Child Language: Vol. 1. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Morse, P. A., & Cowan, N. (1982). Infant auditory and speech perception. In T. M. Field, A. Huston, H. C. Quay, L. Troll, & G. E. Finley (Eds.), Review of human development. New York: Wiley & Sons.

Cowan, N., & Leavitt, L. A. (1981). Juggling acts with linguistic units. In M. F. Miller, C. S. Masek, & R. A. Hendrick (Eds.), Proceedings from the parasession on language and behavior. Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society.

Cowan, N., & Morse, P. A. (1979). Influence of task demands on the categorical versus continuous perception of vowels. In J. J. Wolf & D. H. Klatt (Eds.), Speech communication papers presented at the 97th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America. New York: ASA.

Richardson, J. S., Cowan, N., Hartman, R., & Jacobowitz, D. M. (1974). On the behavioral and neurochemical actions of 6-hydroxydopa and 5, 6- dihydroxytryptamine in rats. Research Communications in Chemical Pathology and Pharmacology, 8, 29-44.

Teaching Specializations

Cognition, Memory, Perception, Information Processing, and Cognitive Development

Frequently Taught Courses

  • Psych 8110 Cognitive Psychology 3 credit hours
    The course focuses on basic research on human perception, memory, attention and thought. This course is part of the core curriculum required for graduate studies in psychology. Prerequisites: graduate standing or approval of instructor.
  • Psych 4110/7110 Perception 3 credit hours
    Data and contemporary theories of perception in all of the senses, with emphasis on visual and auditory perception. Prerequisite: 216.

Teaching Interests

My teaching interests derive largely, though not entirely, from my research interests. My teaching interests are somewhat broader as I understand and accept that students have very diverse interests and orientations. This is true even among highly dedicated and bright students, and these individual differences should be accommodated. For example, less introspective students tend to be more interested in the practical, applied aspects of the research rather than the philosophical implications that fascinate me most; I emphasize both the philosophical and applied realms.

I have taught various courses in cognitive psychology and perception, with occasional specialized seminars focusing on aspects of working memory and sometimes on developmental processes. In this teaching, certain main themes and techniques have emerged as especially important to me. The most important technique for me is the classroom demonstration. In perception class, I like to arrange demonstrations that are striking, make people think, and can be replicated without high-tech equipment (so students can show friends and relatives). For example, for my undergraduate perception course, I always request a classroom with no windows and, in one class, have the students patch one eye shut long enough to become fully dark-adapted. Then I turn the lights out. Students are amazed that the dark-adapted eye can see so well in the dark while the other eye is functionally blind.

A main theme for my teaching is the fallibility of human information processing. I follow that theme through from the limited temporal and spatial resolving power of the senses to perceptual illusions and ambiguities, limitations in working memory and attention, inattentional blindness, false memories, limitations in the ability to process language such as garden-path sentences, heuristics of reasoning and decision-making, faulty metacognition, and non-veridical aspects of social cognition. For me, that point of human fallibility not only is critical for a philosophical understanding of the mind; it also has critically important practical implications. When enough people in the world understand that their own viewpoints are susceptible to error and overconfidence, they will be better able to listen to one another and compromise. It is that point, even more than clinical uses of my research, that most easily allows me to justify to myself why society should support me while I have so much fun examining abstract properties of the human mind.

In graduate mentoring, my policy is to look for synergy between a student and myself. I want students to be successful in their careers and therefore I look for graduate students sharing some of my core interests; but I make no attempt to produce replicas of myself, nor have I done so. I believe that keeping in mind the goals and personalities of individual graduate students, and interacting with each one accordingly, is quite helpful for their progress. It is especially the balance between supervision and independence that is critical and must change notably as the student advances through graduate school.