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Previous research assumes that executive functions such as inhibition, shifting and updating explain individual differences in cognitive abilities. Of these three executive functions, updating was previously found to relate most strongly to fluid intelligence. However, this relationship could be a methodological artifact: Measures of inhibition and shifting usually isolate the contribution of this executive function to performance by contrasting conditions with high and low demands on these processes, whereas updating is measured by overall accuracy in working memory tasks involving updating. This updating measure conflates updating-specific individual differences (e.g., removal of outdated information) with variance in working memory maintenance. Re-analyzing data (N = 111) from von Bastian et al. (2016), we separated updating-specific variance from working memory maintenance variance. Updating contributed only 15% to individual differences in performance in the updating tasks, and it correlated neither with fluid intelligence nor with independent working memory measures reflecting storage and processing or relational integration. In contrast, the working memory maintenance component of the updating task correlated with both abilities. These findings challenge the view that updating contributes to variance in higher cognitive abilities.
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