Working memory is a crucial factor in children’s academic achievement, including their reading ability.
Working memory is the ability to hold pieces of information in the mind and manipulate them, as well as the ability to stay on-task and ignore distractions.
The study, which was conducted in Brazil, included 106 children, half of whom were living under the poverty line (Abreu et al., 2014).
The children took a battery of cognitive tests — including one assessing their working memory — and these were matched up with their attainment in mathematics, spelling, reading, language and science.
The results showed that the children with the best working memories consistently had the highest performance across all the different areas of learning.
The children who struggled, especially with reading, were those with the poorest working memory.
The project’s leader, Dr. Pascale Engel de Abreu, said:
“Our findings suggest the importance of early screening and intervention, especially in the context of poverty.
At present, poor working memory is rarely identified by teachers.
Poor literacy, low academic achievement and living in poverty create a mutually reinforcing cycle.
There is a chance to break this by early identification of children with working memory problems and by helping them to acquire the mental tools which will enable them to learn.”
This study backs up a consistent finding from the English-speaking world that a strong working memory is important for academic achievement.
The authors conclude:
“…many classroom situations place heavy demands on the working memory system because children are required frequently to hold information in mind while engaging in effortful activities.
Lengthy and complex classroom instructions or difficult task structures can lead to working memory overload in children with poor working memory function.
This can result in task failure or abandonment, in other words, missed learning opportunities that negatively affect normal rates of learning.” (Abreu et al., 2014).
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:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Image credit: Lotus Carroll