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Memory. 2014;22(4):323-31. doi: 10.1080/09658211.2013.781186. Epub 2013 Mar 26.

Effects of impoverished environmental conditions on working memory performance.

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  • 1a EMACS Research Unit , University of Luxembourg , Luxembourg.

Abstract

This cross-cultural study investigates the impact of background experience on four verbal and visuo-spatial working memory (WM) tasks. A total of 84 children from low-income families were recruited from the following groups: (1) Portuguese immigrant children from Luxembourg impoverished in terms of language experience; (2) Brazilian children deprived in terms of scholastic background; (3) Portuguese children from Portugal with no disadvantage in either scholastic or language background. Children were matched on age, gender, fluid intelligence, and socioeconomic status and completed four simple and complex span tasks of WM and a vocabulary measure. Results indicate that, despite large differences in their backgrounds and language abilities, the groups exhibited comparable performance on the visuo-spatial tasks dot matrix and odd-one-out and on the verbal simple span task digit recall. Group differences emerged on the verbal complex span task counting recall with children from Luxembourg and Portugal outperforming children from disadvantaged schools in Brazil. The study suggests that whereas contributions of prior knowledge to digit span, dot matrix, and odd-one-out are likely to be minimal, background experience can affect performance on counting recall. Implications for testing WM capacity in children growing up in poverty are discussed.

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