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Mem Cognit. 1989 Mar;17(2):175-85.

Visual and phonological components of working memory in children.


Previous studies have shown that young children's immediate memory for a short series of drawings of objects is mediated by a visual component of working memory, whereas older children rely chiefly upon a phonological component. Three experiments investigated the hypothesis that older children rely also, but to a lesser extent, on visual working memory. Experiment 1 confirmed previous evidence that 11-year-olds' memory is disrupted by phonemic similarity of object names, but is unaffected by visual similarity of the objects themselves. However, when articulatory suppression was used to prevent phonological coding, levels of recall were sensitive to visual rather than phonemic similarity. Experiment 2 compared the effects of interpolating an auditory-verbal or a visual postlist task on memory for drawings viewed either with or without suppression. The visual task had a clear disruptive effect only in the suppression condition, where it interfered selectively with recall of the most recent item. Experiment 3 compared the effects of interpolating an auditory-verbal or a mixed-modality (visual-auditory) postlist task when subjects were not required to suppress. There was greater interference from the mixed-modality task, and this effect was confined to the last item presented. These experiments are taken as confirming the presence of a small but reliable contribution from visual memory in 11-year-old children's recall. As in younger children, visual working memory in 11-year-olds is sensitive to visual similarity and is responsible for a final-item visual recency effect. The results also show that older children's use of visual working memory is usually masked by the more pervasive phonological component of recall. Some implications for the structure of working memory and its development are discussed.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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