, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 138-153

Short-term memory, phonological processing, and reading ability

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Verbal short-term memory deficits are a common characteristic of children with reading problems and may markedly increase the difficulty of learning to read. Previous work suggests that the basis of the short-term memory deficit may involve limitations in phonetic coding. In the present paper, a series of experiments are reviewed which examined the role of phonological processes in short-term memory. First, a developmental study is described in which a significant relationship was found between phonetic processes and verbal memory span, but not between phonetic processes and nonverbal memory. Second, additional studies are reviewed which collectively found that children with reading problems are less accurate at phonetic encoding than are good readers, and that performance on phonetic processing corresponds with verbal memory span. No reading group differences were obtained on nonverbal perception or memory tasks. These findings suggest that both developmental and individual differences in verbal memory span are related to the efficiency of phonological processes. Practical implications of current cognitive research are discussed.

The research was supported by NIH Grant HD-01994 to Haskins Laboratories.