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Individual differences in working memory (WM) are related to performance on secondary memory (SM), and fluid intelligence (gF) tests. However, the source of the relation remains unclear, in part because few studies have controlled for the nature of encoding; therefore, it is unclear whether individual variation is due to encoding, maintenance, or retrieval processes. In the current study, participants performed a WM task (the levels-of-processing span task; Rose, Myerson, Roediger III, & Hale, 2010) and a SM test that tested for both targets and the distracting processing words from the initial WM task. Deeper levels of processing at encoding did not benefit WM, but did benefit subsequent SM, although the amount of benefit was smaller for those with lower WM spans. This result suggests that, despite encoding cues that facilitate retrieval from SM, low spans may have engaged in shallower, maintenance-focused processing to maintain the words in WM. Low spans also recalled fewer targets, more distractors, and more extralist intrusions than high spans, although this was partially due to low spans’ poorer recall of targets, which resulted in a greater number of opportunities to commit recall errors. Delayed recall of intrusions and commission of source errors (labeling targets as processing words and vice versa) were significant negative predictors of gF. These results suggest that the ability to use source information to recall relevant information and withhold recall of irrelevant information is a critical source of both individual variation in WM and the relation between WM, SM, and gF.

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