Memory illuminated by sign language

Some proper science here at last. I get a little nervous when I’ve been posting too many fluffy pieces about dating or life coaches! This study updates the theories about the relationship between the number of short-term memory slots a person has and their intelligence.

Studies of English-speakers have found that people can retain between 5 and 9 items in short-term memory. Other languages have been tested and while most were similar, some exceptions have been found. Chinese speakers could remember between 7 and 11 items while deaf people using sign language between 4 and 6. The reason for this was thought to be how long it took to say these words in the particular language. Chinese numbers are short, hence their performance better.

This study, however implies that this test is biased for the type of processing that the brain is doing: in this case mainly auditory. The researchers developed a new test that was not biased towards auditory processing, and this produced more standardised results for those using sign language.

> Article abstract from Nature Neuroscience

About the author


Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick". You can follow PsyBlog by email, by RSS feed, on Twitter and Google+.

Published: 1 September 2004

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