Age-related differentiation in verbal and visuospatial working memory processing in childhood

  • Frances ButtelmannEmail author
  • Tanja Könen
  • Lauren V. Hadley
  • Julie-Anne Meaney
  • Bonnie Auyeung
  • Candice C. Morey
  • Nicolas Chevalier
  • Julia Karbach
Original Article


Working memory (WM), a key feature of the cognitive system, allows for maintaining and processing information simultaneously and in a controlled manner. WM processing continuously develops across childhood, with significant increases both in verbal and visuospatial WM. Verbal and visuospatial WM may show different developmental trajectories, as verbal (but not visuospatial) WM relies on internal verbal rehearsal, which is less developed in younger children. We examined complex VWM and VSWM performance in 125 younger (age 4–6 years) and 101 older (age 8–10 years) children. Latent multi-group modeling showed that (1) older children performed better on both verbal and visuospatial WM span tasks than younger children, (2) both age groups performed better on verbal than visuospatial WM, and (3) a model with two factors representing verbal and visuospatial WM fit the data better than a one-factor model. Importantly, the correlation between the two factors was significantly higher in younger than in older children, suggesting an age-related differentiation of verbal and spatial WM processing in middle childhood. Age-related differentiation is an important characteristic of cognitive functioning and thus the findings contribute to our general understanding of WM processing.



This work was supported by joint grants from the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC, ES/N018877/1) and the German Research Foundation (DFG, KA 3216/2-1). We thank A. Cloes, G. Schaarschmidt, M. Hansmann, R. Sperlich, A. Hall, J. Middleton, S. Ju, and C. Serrano for their help with testing, KoWo - Kommunale Wohnungsgesellschaft mbH Erfurt for providing a test room, and the children and their parents for their participation.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOC 91 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Developmental PsychologyFriedrich Schiller University JenaJenaGermany
  2. 2.Center for Research on Individual Development and Adaptive Education of Children at Risk (IDeA)FrankfurtGermany
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Koblenz-LandauLandauGermany
  4. 4.Hearing Sciences - Scottish SectionUniversity of NottinghamGlasgowUK
  5. 5.Department of PsychologyUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghUK
  6. 6.School of PsychologyCardiff UniversityCardiffUK

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