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Trends Cogn Sci. 1999 Nov;3(11):410-419.

Cognitive approaches to the development of short-term memory.

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  • 1Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol, 8 Woodland Road, Bristol, UK BS8 1TN.


The capacity to retain information for brief periods of time increases dramatically during the childhood years. The increases in temporary storage of speech-based material that take place in the period spanning the pre-school years and adolescence reflect complex changes in many of the different component processes, including perceptual analysis, construction and maintenance of a memory trace, retention of order information, rehearsal, retrieval and redintegration. Another crucial capacity that undergoes a similar striking development is complex working memory, the ability to manipulate and store material simultaneously. Possible sources of age-related changes in working memory include increases in processing efficiency and attentional capacity, and task-switching. These two short-term memory systems might play significant but distinct roles in supporting the acquisition of knowledge and skills during childhood. Whereas phonological short-term memory is linked specifically with the learning of the phonological structures of new words, complex working memory appears to support processing and learning in a wide range of contexts, in both childhood and adulthood.

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