Recent findings suggest that people with dyslexia experience difficulties with the learning of serial order information during the transition from short- to long-term memory (Szmalec et al. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition 37(5): 1270-1279, 2011). At the same time, models of short-term memory increasingly incorporate a distinction of order and item processing (Majerus et al. Cognition 107: 395-419, 2008). The current study is aimed to investigate whether serial order processing deficiencies in dyslexia can be traced back to a selective impairment of short-term memory for serial order and whether this impairment also affects processing beyond the verbal domain. A sample of 26 adults with dyslexia and a group of age and IQ-matched controls participated in a 2 × 2 × 2 experiment in which we assessed short-term recognition performance for order and item information, using both verbal and nonverbal material. Our findings indicate that, irrespective of the type of material, participants with dyslexia recalled the individual items with the same accuracy as the matched control group, whereas the ability to recognize the serial order in which those items were presented appeared to be affected in the dyslexia group. We conclude that dyslexia is characterized by a selective impairment of short-term memory for serial order, but not for item information, and discuss the integration of these findings into current theoretical views on dyslexia and its associated dysfunctions.
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To avoid confusion with the distinction between sensory modalities like the visual versus auditory modality, we will use the term domain here to dissociate processing of verbal from that of nonverbal material. Most of our stimulus material was presented visually, in which one experimental factor, labeled domain, varied verbal versus nonverbal content.
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The first author received a stipend to attend the doctoral school in Cognitive Science and Education at the Department of Psychology and Cognitive Science of the University of Trento, Italy. This research was further supported in part by a grant from the Flemish Agency for Persons with a Handicap (Vlaams Agentschap voor Personen met een Handicap). The funding sources were not involved in any research-related step of this work. We thank three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier versions of this article, and we are grateful to all participants for their dedication, to Valerie Van Hees and Charlotte De Langhe of Cursief for their invaluable support to find dyslexic volunteers, and to Maaike Callens, Wim Tops, and Marc Brysbaert for providing us with their data on reading tests and IQ for several participants.
• Adult dyslexics were tested on short-term memory (STM) tasks for order and item
• Both conditions were run with verbal and nonverbal material, respectively
• Dyslexics compared to controls performed worse in order tasks but not in item tasks
• Data suggest a domain-general problem with serial order in STM to underlie dyslexia
Example stimuli of the nonverbal item task
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Hachmann, W.M., Bogaerts, L., Szmalec, A. et al. Short-term memory for order but not for item information is impaired in developmental dyslexia. Ann. of Dyslexia 64, 121–136 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11881-013-0089-5