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J Cogn Neurosci. 2009 Feb;21(2):316-32. doi: 10.1162/jocn.2008.21028.

Development of spatial and verbal working memory capacity in the human brain.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA 94305-2130, USA.


A core aspect of working memory (WM) is the capacity to maintain goal-relevant information in mind, but little is known about how this capacity develops in the human brain. We compared brain activation, via fMRI, between children (ages 7-12 years) and adults (ages 20-29 years) performing tests of verbal and spatial WM with varying amounts (loads) of information to be maintained in WM. Children made disproportionately more errors than adults as WM load increased. Children and adults exhibited similar hemispheric asymmetry in activation, greater on the right for spatial WM and on the left for verbal WM. Children, however, failed to exhibit the same degree of increasing activation across WM loads as was exhibited by adults in multiple frontal and parietal cortical regions. Thus, children exhibited adult-like hemispheric specialization, but appeared immature in their ability to marshal the neural resources necessary to maintain large amounts of verbal or spatial information in WM.

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