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The effects of verbal and spatial memory load on children's processing speed

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)161-174
JournalAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Issue number1
Early online date30 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2018


Examining the impact of maintenance on processing speed allows us to test whether storage and processing resources are shared. Comparing these relationships in children of different ages allows further insight into whether one or multiple resources for these operations must be assumed and whether remembering is proactive throughout childhood. We tested 185 4‐ to 6‐ and 8‐ to 10‐year‐old children using adaptive complex span tasks, in which simple judgments were interleaved between to‐be‐remembered items. The adaptiveness of our tasks ensured that all participants frequently correctly recalled the items. If storage and processing require a single resource, and if participants serially reactivate the memoranda between processing episodes, processing response times should increase with serial position of the processing judgment within lists. We observed different within‐list dynamics for each age group. Older children's processing judgments slowed gradually when more than two memory items were maintained. By contrast, younger children showed no evidence of slower processing with increasing memory load. Our results support models of working memory that assume that some common resource is responsible for verbal and spatial storage and processing. They also support the notion that remembering becomes more proactive as children mature.

    Research areas

  • working memory, cognitive development, executive functions

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