Memory & Cognition

, Volume 37, Issue 3, pp 336–345 | Cite as

Working memory and inhibitory control across the life span: Intrusion errors in the Reading Span Test

  • Christelle RobertEmail author
  • Erika Borella
  • Delphine Fagot
  • Thierry Lecerf
  • Anik de Ribaupierre


The aim of this study was to examine to what extent inhibitory control and working memory capacity are related across the life span. Intrusion errors committed by children and younger and older adults were investigated in two versions of the Reading Span Test. In Experiment 1, a mixed Reading Span Test with items of various list lengths was administered. Older adults and children recalled fewer correct words and produced more intrusions than did young adults. Also, age-related differences were found in the type of intrusions committed. In Experiment 2, an adaptive Reading Span Test was administered, in which the list length of items was adapted to each individual’s working memory capacity. Age groups differed neither on correct recall nor on the rate of intrusions, but they differed on the type of intrusions. Altogether, these findings indicate that the availability of attentional resources influences the efficiency of inhibition across the life span.


Inhibitory Control Work Memory Work Memory Capacity Memory Load Work Memory Task 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Baddeley, A. D. (1986). Working memory. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Baddeley, A. D., Logie, R. H., Nimmo-Smith, I., & Brereton, N. (1985). Components of fluid reading. Journal of Memory & Language, 24, 119–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bjorklund, D. F., & Harnishfeger, K. K. (1995). The role of inhibition mechanisms in the evolution of human cognition. In F. Dempster & C. Brainerd (Eds.), New perspectives on interference and inhibition in cognition (pp. 141–173). New York: Academic Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bopp, K. L., & Verhaeghen, P. (2005). Aging and verbal memory span: A meta-analysis. Journal of Gerontology, 60B, 223–233.Google Scholar
  5. Borella, E. (2006). Reading comprehension, working memory and inhibition: A life span perspective. Unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Geneva.Google Scholar
  6. Borella, E., Carretti, B., Cornoldi, C., & De Beni, R. (2007). Working memory, control of interference and everyday experience of thought interference: When age makes the difference. Aging Clinical & Experimental Research, 19, 200–206.Google Scholar
  7. Borella, E., Carretti, B., & De Beni, R. (2008). Working memory and inhibition across the adult life-span. Acta Psychologica, 128, 33–44.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Borella, E., Carretti, B., & Mammarella, I. C. (2006). Do working memory and susceptibility to interference predict individual differences in fluid intelligence? European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 18, 51–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Carretti, B., Cornoldi, C., De Beni, R., & Romanò, M. (2005). Updating in working memory: A comparison of poor and good comprehenders. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 91, 45–66.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Case, R. (1985). Intellectual development: Birth to adulthood. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  11. Chiappe, P., Hasher, L., & Siegel, L. S. (2000). Working memory, inhibitory control, and reading disability. Memory & Cognition, 28, 8–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Conway, A. R. A., & Engle, R. W. (1994). Working memory and retrieval: A resource-dependent inhibition model. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 123, 354–373.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Conway, A. R. A., Tuholski, S. W., Shisler, R. J., & Engle, R. W. (1999). The effect of memory load on negative priming: An individual differences investigation. Memory & Cognition, 27, 1042–1050.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Daneman, M., & Carpenter, P. A. (1980). Individual differences in working memory and reading. Journal of Verbal Learning & Verbal Behavior, 19, 450–466.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Daneman, M., & Green, I. (1986). Individual differences in comprehending and producing words in context. Journal of Memory & Language, 25, 1–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Daneman, M., & Merikle, P. M. (1996). Working memory and language comprehension: A meta-analysis. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 3, 422–433.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. De Beni, R., & Palladino, P. (2004). Decline in working memory updating through aging: Intrusion error analyses. Memory, 12, 75–89.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Delaloye, C., Ludwig, C., Borella, E., Chicherio, C., & de Ribaupierre, A. (2008). L’empan de lecture comme épreuve mesurant la capacité de mémoire de travail: Normes basées sur une population francophone de 775 adultes jeunes et âgés. European Review of Applied Psychology, 58, 89–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Deltour, J. J. (1998). Echelle de Vocabulaire Mill Hill de J. C. Raven. Paris: Editions et Applications Psychologiques.Google Scholar
  20. Dempster, F. N. (1981). Memory span: Sources of individual and developmental differences. Psychological Bulletin, 89, 63–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Dempster, F. N. (1992). The rise and fall of the inhibitory mechanism: Toward a unified theory of cognitive development and aging. Developmental Review, 12, 45–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. de Ribaupierre, A. (2000). Working memory and attentional control. In W. Perrig & A. Grob (Eds.), Control of human behavior, mental processes, and consciousness (pp. 147–164). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  23. de Ribaupierre, A. (2001). Working memory and attentional processes across the life span. In P. Graf & N. Otha (Eds.), Life span development of human memory (pp. 59–80). Cambridge: MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  24. de Ribaupierre, A., Atzeni, T., Fagot, D., Jouffray, C., Lecerf, T., & Ludwig, C. (2004). Dimensionnalité de l’inhibition cognitive au travers du life span. Geneva: University of Geneva. Unpublished Report.Google Scholar
  25. de Ribaupierre, A., & Bailleux, C. (1994). Developmental change in a spatial task of attentional capacity: An essay toward an integration of two working memory models. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 17, 5–35.Google Scholar
  26. de Ribaupierre, A., & Lecerf, T. (2006). Relationships between working memory and intelligence from a developmental perspective: Convergent evidence from a neo-Piagetian and a psychometric approach. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 18, 109–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. de Ribaupierre, A., Lecerf, T., Leutwyler, J., & Poget, L. (1997). Mémoire de travail et attention sélective au cours du life span (Rep. No. 1). Geneva: University of Geneva.Google Scholar
  28. Dywan, J., & Murphy, W. E. (1996). Aging and inhibitory control in text comprehension. Psychology & Aging, 11, 199–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Engle, R. W., Conway, A. R. A., Tuholski, S. W., & Shisler, R. J. (1995). A resource account of inhibition. Psychological Science, 6, 122–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Engle, R. W., Tuholski, S. W., Laughlin, J. E., & Conway, A. R. A. (1999). Working memory, short-term memory and general fluid intelligence: A latent-variable approach. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 128, 309–331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Harnishfeger, K. K. (1995). The development of cognitive inhibition. In F. N. Dempster & C. J. Brainerd (Eds.), Interference and inhibition in cognition (pp. 175–204). New York: Academic Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hasher, L., Lustig, C., & Zacks, R. T. (2007). Inhibitory mechanisms and the control of attention. In A. A. Conway, C. Jarrold, M. J. Kane, A. Miyake, & J. N. Towse (Eds.), Variation in working memory (pp. 227–249). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Hasher, L., & Zacks, R. T. (1988). Working memory, comprehension, and aging: A review and a new view. In G. H. Bower (Eds.), The psychology of learning and motivation: Advances in research and theory (Vol. 22, pp. 193–225). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  34. Hasher, L., Zacks, R. T., & May, C. P. (1999). Inhibitory control, circadian arousal, and age. In D. Gopher & A. Koriat (Eds.), Attention and performance XVII: Cognitive regulation of performance. Interaction of theory and application (pp. 653–675). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  35. Hedden, T., & Park, D. C. (2003). Contributions of source and inhibitory mechanisms to age-related retroactive interference in verbal working memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 132, 93–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Jenkins, L., Myerson, J., Hale, S., & Fry, A. F. (1999). Individual and developmental differences in working memory across the life span. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 6, 28–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Johnson, M. K., Hashtroudi, S., & Lindsay, D. S. (1993). Source monitoring. Psychological Bulletin, 114, 3–28.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Kyllonen, P. C., & Christal, R. E. (1990). Reasoning ability is (little more than) working-memory capacity. Intelligence, 14, 389–433.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Lindsay, D. S., Johnson, M. K., & Kwon, P. (1991). Developmental changes in memory source monitoring. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 52, 297–318.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Lustig, C., May, C. P., & Hasher, L. (2001). Working memory span and the role of proactive interference. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 130, 199–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Masson, M. E. J., & Miller, J. A. (1983). Working memory and individual differences in comprehension and memory of text. Journal of Educational Psychology, 75, 314–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. May, C. P., Hasher, L., & Kane, M. J. (1999). The role of interference in memory span. Memory & Cognition, 27, 759–767.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Miyake, A., & Shah, P. (1999). Models of working memory: Mechanisms of active maintenance and executive control. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Park, D. C., & Payer, D. (2006). Working memory across the adult life span. In E. Bialystock & F. I. M. Craik (Eds.), Life span cognition: Mechanisms of change (pp. 128–142). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Pascual-Leone, J. (1970). A mathematical model for the transition rule in Piaget’s developmental stages. Acta Psychologica, 63, 301–345.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Pascual-Leone, J. (1987). Organismic processes for neo-Piagetian theories: A dialectical causal account of cognitive development. International Journal of Psychology, 22, 531–570.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Pascual-Leone, J., & Baillargeon, R. (1994). Developmental measurement of mental attention. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 17, 161–200.Google Scholar
  48. Raven, J. C., Court, J. H., & Raven, J. (1998). Manual for Raven’s progressive matrices and vocabulary scales. London: Lewis.Google Scholar
  49. Redick, T. S., Heitz, R. P., & Engle, R. W. (2007). Working memory capacity and inhibition: Cognitive and social consequences. In D. S. Gorfein & C. M. MacLeod (Eds.), Inhibition in cognition (pp. 125–142). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Roberts, R. J., Hager, L. D., & Heron, C. (1994). Prefrontal cognitive processes: Working memory and inhibition in the antisaccade task. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 123, 374–393.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Rosen, V. M., & Engle, R. W. (1998). Working memory capacity and suppression. Journal of Memory & Language, 39, 418–436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Siegel, L. S. (1994). Working memory and reading: A life-span perspective. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 17, 109–124.Google Scholar
  53. Waters, G. S., & Caplan, D. (2001). Age, working memory, and online syntactic processing in sentence comprehension. Psychology & Aging, 16, 128–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Williams, B. R., Ponesse, J. S., Schachar, R. J., Logan, G. D., & Tannock, R. (1999). Development of inhibitory control across the life span. Developmental Psychology, 35, 205–213.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christelle Robert
    • 1
    Email author
  • Erika Borella
    • 2
  • Delphine Fagot
    • 1
  • Thierry Lecerf
    • 1
  • Anik de Ribaupierre
    • 1
  1. 1.University of GenevaGenevaSwitzerland
  2. 2.University of PaduaPaduaItaly

Personalised recommendations