Understanding Inter- and Intrasubjective Variability During Working Memory Task Performance With Neurophenomenology


  • Veronika Lah University of Ljubljana
  • Stela Kocbek University of Ljubljana
  • Aleš Oblak University Psychiatric Clinic Ljubljana
  • Jurij Bon University Psychiatric Clinic Ljubljana



Working memory (WM) is one of the central cognitive functions of interest in psychiatry. WM is measured using performance measures (accuracy, reaction time) gathered with psychological tasks. Performance on cognitive tasks, however, is marked by both inter- and intrasubjective variability [1]. Variability in task performance can be understood from several perspectives (e.g., stable traits). One perspective that remains underinvestigated is phenomenology; that is, individuals experience solving the same task differently [2]. Our goal was to test the hypothesis that lived experience can be used to explain some of the variability in the data gathered using a visuo-spatial WM-task. To this effect, we mutually constrained first-person data (reports on different aspects of experience) and third-person data (performance measures).


25 university students (aged 18-30) attended four experimental sessions. During the sessions, participants solved a progressively more difficult visual span task. Target stimulus in the form of a partially colored-in grid had to be memorised and subsequently selected from four similar probe stimuli. After each trial, participants reported on their lived experience using a computerised framework, based on previously gathered in-depth, interview-based phenomenological data on the experience of WM-tasks [3].

Several questionnaires were used to allow for comparison between how much variability in cognitive performance is explained by stable traits (personality, need for cognition, mood disorder symptomatology, cognitive styles) and how much by different aspects of experience.


Data analysis is underway. The data will be analysed using k-prototype clustering, since we are gathering both numerical and nominal data. Additional exploratory analyses will be used as well.


We hope that elucidating intersubjective differences in experiences associated with WM-task performance will shed further light on impairment of cognitive functions in psychiatric disorders.


[1] M. L. Seghier and C. J. Price, “Interpreting and utilising intersubject variability in brain function,” Trends in Cognitive Sciences, vol. 22, no. 6, pp. 517–530, 2018.

[2] A. Lutz, Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 133–167, 2002.

[3] Oblak, A., Repovš, G., Slana Ozimič, A., Kordeš, U. “What Individuals Experience During Visuo-spatial Working Memory Task Performance: An Exploratory Phenomenological Study”, Frontiers in Psychology, 2022.