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Mem Cognit. 2015 Apr;43(3):340-56. doi: 10.3758/s13421-014-0491-1.

Working memory and intraindividual variability in processing speed: A lifespan developmental and individual-differences study.

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FPSE, University of Geneva, Boulevard du Pont d'Arve, CH-1205, Geneva, Switzerland.


Working memory (WM) and intraindividual variability (IIV) in processing speed are both hypothesized to reflect general attentional processes. In the present study, we aimed at exploring the relationship between WM capacity and IIV in reaction times (RTs) and its possible variation with development across the lifespan. Two WM tasks and six RT tasks of varying complexity were analyzed in a sample of 539 participants, consisting of five age groups: two groups of children (9-10 and 11-12 years of age), one group of young adults, and two groups of older adults (59-69 and 70-89 years of age). Two approaches were adopted. First, low-span and high-span individuals were identified, and analyses of variance were conducted comparing these two groups within each age group and for each RT task. The results consistently showed a span effect in the youngest children and oldest adults: High-span individuals were significantly faster and less variable than low-span individuals. In contrast, in young adults no difference was observed between high- and low-span individuals, whether in terms of their means or IIV. Second, multivariate analyses were conducted on the entire set of tasks, to determine whether IIV in RTs brought different information than the mean RT. The results showed that, although very strongly correlated, the mean and IIV in speed should be kept separate in terms of how they account for individual differences in WM. Overall, our results support the assumption of a link between WM capacity and IIV in RT, more strongly so in childhood and older adulthood.

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