PROJECT 11: DEVELOPMENT OF VERBAL WORKING MEMORY STRATEGIES IN YOUNG CHILDREN Working memory, the temporary storage and processing of information, contributes to performance on a wide range of academic and cognitive skills in children and adults. Rehearsal, the silent repetition of to-be- remembered information, is one strategy which can be implemented to overcome the storage limitations of working memory. At the present time, there is a fundamental gap in understanding how working memory strategies?particularly rehearsal?develop into adult levels. The lack of knowledge regarding the developmental trajectory of rehearsal poses important theoretical and clinical problems. Rehearsal has been proposed as a foundational skill from which other working memory strategies emerge, but this hypothesis cannot be tested without first having a clear understanding of rehearsal development itself. Clinically, interventions aimed at refining working memory strategies have the potential for improving long-term academic and cognitive outcomes in children who display working memory problems. The long-term goal of this research program is to identify individual children?s working memory weaknesses. Once these weaknesses are identified, targeted interventions can be developed that will improve broader academic skills, such as reading. As a first step, the objective of the present project is to characterize the contexts in which a young child implements rehearsal strategies. The primary hypotheses are that children differ with regard to the age-of- onset and efficiency of rehearsal strategies and that these individual differences are related to both the demands of the task and the child?s language ability. These hypotheses will be tested by pursuing two specific aims: (1) Characterize the developmental trajectory of rehearsal when working memory resources are available or depleted, and (2) Describe the role of lexical knowledge in early rehearsal abilities of visually presented lists.
Under Specific Aim 1, children ages 4 to 8 will be monitored for rehearsal use in a variety of tasks that vary in length and rehearsal instructions.
Under Specific Aim 2, rehearsal use will be evaluated as visual stimuli change from having obvious verbal labels (i.e. digits) to less obvious verbal labels (i.e. pictures of abstract shapes). Children?s language ability will be included as a covariate to control for the role of language experience separate from age in rehearsal development. This approach is innovative because it moves beyond group-level analyses of rehearsal to examine rehearsal in individual children under systematically manipulated task demands. The proposed research is significant because it directly addresses inconsistencies in the literature regarding the development of rehearsal in young, typically-developing children, advancing current models of working memory as well as lay the framework for interventions for children with disruptions to working memory.
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