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Working memory: a better predictor of academic success than IQ?

Work­ing mem­ory is the abil­ity to hold infor­ma­tion in your head and

via Flickr (Plasticinaa)

Pic: Flickr (Plasticinaa)

manip­u­late it men­tally. You use this men­tal work­space when adding up two num­bers spo­ken to you by some­one else with­out being able to use pen and paper or a cal­cu­la­tor. Chil­dren at school need this mem­ory on a daily basis for a vari­ety of tasks such as fol­low­ing teach­ers’ instruc­tions or remem­ber­ing sen­tences they have been asked to write down.

The main goal of our recent paper pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Exper­i­men­tal Child Psy­chol­ogy was to inves­ti­gate the pre­dic­tive power of work­ing mem­ory and IQ in learn­ing in typ­i­cally devel­op­ing chil­dren over a six-year period. This issue is impor­tant because dis­tin­guish­ing between the cog­ni­tive skills under­pin­ning suc­cess in learn­ing is cru­cial for early screen­ing and intervention.

In this study, typ­i­cally devel­op­ing stu­dents were tested for their IQ and work­ing mem­ory at 5 years old and again when they were 11 years old. They were also tested on their aca­d­e­mic attain­ments in read­ing, spelling and maths.

Find­ings and Edu­ca­tional Implications

The find­ings revealed that a child’s suc­cess in all aspects of learn­ing is down to how good their work­ing mem­ory is regard­less of IQ score. Crit­i­cally, work­ing mem­ory at the start of for­mal edu­ca­tion is a more pow­er­ful pre­dic­tor of sub­se­quent aca­d­e­mic suc­cess than IQ in the early years.

This unique find­ing is impor­tant as it addresses Read the rest of this entry »

Comparing Working Memory Training & Medication Treatment for ADHD

Work­ing mem­ory (WM) is the cog­ni­tive sys­tem respon­si­ble for the tem­po­rary stor­age and manip­u­la­tion of infor­ma­tion and plays an impor­tant role in both learn­ing and focus­ing atten­tion. Con­sid­er­able research has doc­u­mented that many chil­dren and adults with ADHD have WM deficits and that this con­tributes to dif­fi­cul­ties asso­ci­ated with the dis­or­der. For an excel­lent intro­duc­tion to the role of WM deficits in ADHD, click here.

A sim­ple exam­ple illus­trates the impor­tance of WM for par­tic­u­lar aca­d­e­mic tasks. Try adding 3 and 9 in your head. That was prob­a­bly easy for you. Now try­ing adding 33 and 99. That was prob­a­bly more dif­fi­cult. Finally, try adding 333 and 999. This is quite chal­leng­ing for most adults even though each cal­cu­la­tion required is triv­ially easy. The chal­lenge occurred because you need to store infor­ma­tion — the sum of 3+9 in the one’s col­umn and then ten’s col­umn — as you process the remain­ing part of the prob­lem, i.e., 3+9 in the hundred’s col­umn, and this taxed your WM. If your WM capac­ity was exceeded, you could not com­plete the prob­lem successfully.

This sim­ple prob­lem also illus­trates the dif­fer­ence between short-term mem­ory (STM) and WM. Short-term mem­ory sim­ply involves retain­ing infor­ma­tion in mind for short peri­ods of time, e.g., remem­ber­ing that the prob­lem you need to solve is 333+999. Work­ing mem­ory, in con­trast, involves men­tally manip­u­lat­ing — or ‘work­ing’ with — retained infor­ma­tion and comes into play in a wide range of learn­ing activ­i­ties. For exam­ple, to answer ques­tions about a sci­ence chap­ter, a child not only has to cor­rectly retain fac­tual infor­ma­tion but must men­tally work with that infor­ma­tion to answer ques­tions about it. Thus, when a child’s WM capac­ity is low rel­a­tive to peers, aca­d­e­mic per­for­mance is likely to be com­pro­mised in mul­ti­ple areas.

Because WM deficits play an impor­tant role in the strug­gles expe­ri­enced by many indi­vid­u­als with ADHD, it is impor­tant to con­sider how dif­fer­ent inter­ven­tions address this aspect of the dis­or­der. In this study, the authors were inter­ested in com­par­ing the impact of Work­ing Mem­ory Train­ing and stim­u­lant med­ica­tion treat­ment on the WM per­for­mance of chil­dren diag­nosed with ADHD.

Par­tic­i­pants were 25 8–11 year-old chil­dren with ADHD (21 boy and 4 girls) who were Placebo effect, mind hacksbeing treated with stim­u­lant med­ica­tion. Children’s mem­ory per­for­mance was assessed on 4 occa­sions using the Auto­mated Work­ing Mem­ory Assess­ment (AWMA), a com­put­er­ized test that mea­sures ver­bal short-term mem­ory, ver­bal work­ing mem­ory, visuo-spatial short-term mem­ory, and visuo-spatial work­ing memory.

At time 1, the assess­ment was con­ducted when chil­dren had been off med­ica­tion for at least 24 hours. The sec­ond assess­ment occurred an aver­age of 5 months later and when chil­dren were on med­ica­tion. The third assess­ment occurred after chil­dren had com­pleted 5 weeks of Cogmed Work­ing Mem­ory Train­ing using the stan­dard train­ing pro­to­col (see below). The final assess­ment occurred approx­i­mately 6 months after train­ing had ended. This design enabled the researchers to make the fol­low­ing comparisons:

- WM per­for­mance on med­ica­tion vs. off med­ica­tion (T1 vs T2)
– WM per­for­mance on med­ica­tion vs. after train­ing (T2 vs. T3)
– WM per­for­mance imme­di­ately after train­ing ended vs. 6 months fol­low­ing train­ing (T3 vs. T4)

This final com­par­i­son pro­vided infor­ma­tion on whether any ben­e­fits pro­vided by the train­ing had endured.

In addi­tion to mea­sur­ing STM and WM at each time point, mea­sures of IQ were col­lected at times 1, 2, and 3.

- Work­ing Mem­ory Train­ing -

WM train­ing was con­ducted using the stan­dard Cogmed train­ing pro­to­col with each child Cogmed working memory trainingcom­plet­ing 20–25 train­ing ses­sions within a 25 day period. The train­ing requires the stor­age and manip­u­la­tion of sequences of ver­bal, e.g., repeat­ing back a sequence of dig­its in reverse order, and/or visuo-spatial infor­ma­tion, e.g., recall­ing the loca­tion of objects on dif­fer­ent por­tions of the com­puter screen.

Dif­fi­culty level is cal­i­brated on a trial by trial basis so the child is always work­ing at a level that closely matches their per­for­mance. For exam­ple, if a child suc­cess­fully recalled three dig­its in reverse order, on the next trial he had to recall four. When a trial was failed, the next trial was made eas­ier by reduc­ing the num­ber of items to be recalled. This method of ‘adap­tive train­ing’ is thought to be a key ele­ment because it requires the child to ‘stretch’ their WM capac­ity to move through the program.

- Results -

- Impact of Short-Term Mem­ory and Work­ing Mem­ory -

Med­ica­tion vs. no med­ica­tion — When tested on med­ica­tion, Read the rest of this entry »

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