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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.

About the author

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.

He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:

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> Article abstract from Nature Neuroscience