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Short-term memory limitations in children: Capacity or processing deficits?

Abstract

This paper evaluates the assertion that short-term memory (STM) capacity increases with age. Initially an analysis is made of the STM system in terms of its parameters and control processes. No evidence was found that can suggest conclusively that either the capacity or the rate of information loss from STM varies with age. On the other hand, substantial evidence exists to show that the processing strategies used by adults are unavailable or deficient in children. Furthermore, considerable differences in the contents and complexity of the long-term memory (LTM) knowledge base (semantic and recognition networks can produce grossly different STM performance between age groups. The second half of this paper reviews three STM-related paradigms—memory span, serial probed recall, and recognition under limited exposure—that have consistently shown performance deficits in children. These deficits are explained in terms of the lack of proper control processes (or processing strategies), as well as an impoverished LTM knowledge base rather than a limitation in STM capacity.

Reference Notes

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Correspondence to Michelene T. H. Chi.

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Preliminary drafts were written while the author was supported at Carnegie-Mellon University by Public Health Research Grant MH-07722 from NIH, and in part by a grant from the Spencer Foundation. Portions of this paper provided the basis of a thesis submitted to Carnegie-Mellon University.

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Chi, M.T.H. Short-term memory limitations in children: Capacity or processing deficits?. Memory & Cognition 4, 559–572 (1976). https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03213219

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Keywords

  • Free Recall
  • Retention Interval
  • Serial Position
  • Digit Span
  • Memory Span