Memory & Cognition

, Volume 16, Issue 2, pp 120-132

Visual working memory in young children

  • Graham J. HitchAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Manchester
  • , Sebastian HallidayAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Manchester
  • , Alma M. SchaafstalAffiliated withUniversity of Groningen
  • , Jan Maarten C. SchraagenAffiliated withUniversity of Groningen


Five experiments investigated immediate memory for drawings of familiar objects in children of different ages. The aims were to demonstrate younger children’s greater dependence on visual working memory and to explore the nature of this memory system. Experiment 1 showed that visual similarity of drawings impaired recall in young (5-year-old) children but not in older (10-year-old) children. Experiment 2 showed that younger and older children were affected in contrasting ways when the temporal order of recall was manipulated. Experiment 3 explored a recency effect found in backward recall and investigated its sensitivity to the presentation modality of materials used to produce retroactive interference (RI). For younger children, recency was reduced by visual but not by auditory-verbal RI; for older children, recency was more sensitive to auditoryverbal RI. Experiment 4 confirmed the effect of visual RI on visual recency in young children and showed that the same RI had little effect on their recall of spoken words. These results confirm younger children’s dependence on visual working memory. A final experiment showed that the effects of visual similarity and visual RI are additive, suggesting that they reflect different modes of accessing stored visuospatial information. Implications of these findings for developmental issues and for the nature of visual working memory are discussed.