Tag Archives: Working memory

Concordia University study: Long-term benefits of improving your toddler’s memory skills

15 Jan

MedicineNet.com defines working memory in the article, Definition of Working memory:

Working memory is a system for temporarily storing and managing the information required to carry out complex cognitive tasks such as learning, reasoning, and comprehension. Working memory is involved in the selection, initiation, and termination of information-processing functions such as encoding, storing, and retrieving data.
One test of working memory is memory span, the number of items, usually words or numbers, that a person can hold onto and recall. In a typical test of memory span, an examiner reads a list of random numbers aloud at about the rate of one number per second. At the end of a sequence, the person being tested is asked to recall the items in order. The average memory span for normal adults is 7 items. http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=7143

The University of Pennsylvania researchers studied working memory in a longitudinal study. See, Penn and CHOP Researchers Track Working Memory From Childhood Through Adolescence http://www.upenn.edu/pennnews/news/penn-and-chop-researchers-track-working-memory-childhood-through-adolescence

Science Daily reported in Early intervention: New research shows that preschoolers with poor short-term recall are more at risk of dropping out of high school:

If your toddler is a Forgetful Jones, you might want to help boost his or her brainpower sooner rather than later. New research shows that preschoolers who score lower on a memory task are likely to score higher on a dropout risk scale at the age of 12.
“Identifying students who are at risk of eventually dropping out of high school is an important step in preventing this social problem,” says Caroline Fitzpatrick, first author of a study recently published in Intelligence, and a researcher at Concordia’s PERFORM Centre.

She and the study’s other researchers, who are affiliated with the Université Sainte-Anne and Université de Montréal, have suggestions for how parents can help kids improve their memory.

The study examines responses from 1,824 children at age two and a half, and then at three and a half. That data is then compared to the school-related attitudes and results of these children when they hit grade seven.

Results were clear: those that do better on a memory-testing imitation sorting task during toddlerhood are more likely to perform better in school later on — and therefore more likely to stay in school. The imitation sorting task is specifically effective in measuring working memory, which can be compared to a childs mental workspace.

“Our results suggest that early individual differences in working memory may contribute to developmental risk for high school dropout, as calculated from student engagement in school, grade point average and whether or not they previously repeated a year in school,” says Fitzpatrick.

“When taken together, those factors can identify which 12 year olds are likely to fail to complete high school by the age of 21.”
Help at home

“Preschoolers can engage in pretend play with other children to help them practise their working memory, since this activity involves remembering their own roles and the roles of others,” says Linda Pagani of the Université de Montréal, co-senior author.
“Encouraging mindfulness in children by helping them focus on their moment-to-moment experiences also has a positive effect on working memory….” http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160112125425.htm

Citation:

Long-term benefits of improving your toddler’s memory skills
Early intervention: New research shows that preschoolers with poor short-term recall are more at risk of dropping out of high school
Date: January 12, 2016

Source: Concordia University

Summary:
Preschoolers who score lower on a memory task are likely to score higher on a dropout risk scale at the age of 12, new research shows. In a new article, the authors offer suggestions for how parents can help kids improve their kid’s memory.

Journal Reference:
1. Caroline Fitzpatrick, Isabelle Archambault, Michel Janosz, Linda S. Pagani. Early childhood working memory forecasts high school dropout risk. Intelligence, 2015; 53: 160 DOI: 10.1016/j.intell.2015.10.002

Here is the press release from Concordia University:

The long-term benefits of improving your toddler’s memory skills

Early intervention: a researcher at Concordia’s PERFORM Centre finds that preschoolers with poor short-term recall are more at risk of dropping out of high school

Montreal, January 12, 2016 — If your toddler is a Forgetful Jones, you might want to help boost his or her brainpower sooner rather than later. New research shows that preschoolers who score lower on a memory task are likely to score higher on a dropout risk scale at the age of 12.

“Identifying students who are at risk of eventually dropping out of high school is an important step in preventing this social problem,” says Caroline Fitzpatrick, first author of a study recently published in Intelligence, and a researcher at Concordia’sPERFORM Centre.
She and the study’s other researchers, who are affiliated with the Université Sainte-Anne and Université de Montréal, have suggestions for how parents can help kids improve their memory.

The study examines responses from 1,824 children at age two and a half, and then at three and a half. That data is then compared to the school-related attitudes and results of these children when they hit grade seven.

Results were clear: those that do better on a memory-testing imitation sorting task during toddlerhood are more likely to perform better in school later on — and therefore more likely to stay in school. The imitation sorting task is specifically effective in measuring working memory, which can be compared to a childs mental workspace.

“Our results suggest that early individual differences in working memory may contribute to developmental risk for high school dropout, as calculated from student engagement in school, grade point average and whether or not they previously repeated a year in school,” says Fitzpatrick.

“When taken together, those factors can identify which 12 year olds are likely to fail to complete high school by the age of 21.”
Help at home

“Preschoolers can engage in pretend play with other children to help them practise their working memory, since this activity involves remembering their own roles and the roles of others,” says Linda Pagani of the Université de Montréal, co-senior author.
“Encouraging mindfulness in children by helping them focus on their moment-to-moment experiences also has a positive effect on working memory.”

Pagani also notes that breathing exercises and guided meditation can be practised with preschool and elementary school children. In older kids, vigorous aerobic activity such as soccer, basketball and jumping rope have all been shown to have beneficial effects on concentration and recall.

The researchers note that another promising strategy for improving working memory in children is to limit screen time — video games, smartphones, tablets and television — which can undermine cognitive control and take time away from more enriching pursuits.
“Our findings underscore the importance of early intervention,” says Fitzpatick.

“Parents can help their children develop strong working memory skills at home, and this can have a positive impact on school performance later in life.”

Partners in research: First author Caroline Fitzpatrick is a researcher at Concordia’s PERFORM Centre and a professor of psychology at Université Sainte-Anne. Co-senior author Linda Pagani is a professor at the École de Psychoéducation at the Université de Montréal and a researcher at the Centre de recherche du CHU Sainte-Justine. The study was conducted and supported by the Groupe de recherche sur les environnements scolaires.

Source
Cléa Desjardins
Senior Advisor
Media Relations
514-848-2424 ext. 5068
clea.desjardins@concordia.ca
@CleaDesjardins

Parents can help foster curious kids.

Justin Coulson writes in the article, Raising smart, curious children:

Parents can do several things that will foster curiosity and a love of learning in their children, and help them grow up intellectually stimulated and successful.
• Model a love of learning. Be seen reading, finding answers, and discovering things yourself. Your children will watch and learn from you.
• Embrace the motto “we try new things”. Whether it is a new meal, a new sport, a new holiday destination, or a new way of cleaning the house, let your children know that you want to try new things and discover things you previously did not know much about.
• Teach your children to find answers. When your children ask you a question, rather than answering them directly encourage them to find out for themselves. Point them to references, the Internet, or other useful sources.
• Ask questions. If your child is curious about something, find out why. Encourage discussion. Find out what s/he knows already. When your child makes a statement (about anything) you can ask “why” and have an interesting conversation. Your demonstration of curiosity can be a terrific example to your children
• Be willing to talk. It is often easy for a parent to say “I’ll tell you later”, or “Not now, I’m busy.” Such responses will dampen the enthusiasm and curiosity a child has for a subject. Be being available, your child will be able to pursue a love of learning and all you have to do is facilitate it.
• Provide tools for learning by visiting the library, buying books from the shops, and having access to the Internet available for appropriate learning activities.
• Eliminate the use of rewards for learning. Research shows that the more we reward someone for a task, the less interested they become in the task. When rewards are offered, people generally become more interested in the reward than in the process required to obtain the reward. Instead, encourage curiosity for its own sake….. http://www.kidspot.com.au/schoolzone/Study-tips-Raising-smart-curious-children+4165+304+article.htm

Education is a partnership and parents must help educators foster curiosity in children.

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.
Albert Einstein

Resources:

How Can Teachers Foster Curiosity?                                                                             http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/06/04/33shonstrom.h33.html

How to Stimulate Curiosity
How to Stimulate Curiosity

Six ways to build greater curiosity in students
http://edge.ascd.org/blogpost/six-ways-to-build-greater-curiosity-in-students

How to Ignite Intellectual Curiosity in Students
http://www.edutopia.org/blog/igniting-student-curiousity-inquiry-method

Where information leads to Hope. © Dr. Wilda.com

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

Blogs by Dr. Wilda:

COMMENTS FROM AN OLD FART©
http://drwildaoldfart.wordpress.com/

Dr. Wilda Reviews ©
http://drwildareviews.wordpress.com/

Dr. Wilda ©
https://drwilda.com/

University of California Davis study: Curiosity changes the brain to enhance learning

6 Oct

MedicineNet.com defines working memory in the article, Definition of Working memory:

Working memory is a system for temporarily storing and managing the information required to carry out complex cognitive tasks such as learning, reasoning, and comprehension. Working memory is involved in the selection, initiation, and termination of information-processing functions such as encoding, storing, and retrieving data.
One test of working memory is memory span, the number of items, usually words or numbers, that a person can hold onto and recall. In a typical test of memory span, an examiner reads a list of random numbers aloud at about the rate of one number per second. At the end of a sequence, the person being tested is asked to recall the items in order. The average memory span for normal adults is 7 items. http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=7143

The University of Pennsylvania researchers studied working memory in a longitudinal study. See, Penn and CHOP Researchers Track Working Memory From Childhood Through Adolescence http://www.upenn.edu/pennnews/news/penn-and-chop-researchers-track-working-memory-childhood-through-adolescence

Science Daily reported in the article, How curiosity changes the brain to enhance learning:

The more curious we are about a topic, the easier it is to learn information about that topic. New research publishing online October 2 in the Cell Press journal Neuron provides insights into what happens in our brains when curiosity is piqued. The findings could help scientists find ways to enhance overall learning and memory in both healthy individuals and those with neurological conditions.
“Our findings potentially have far-reaching implications for the public because they reveal insights into how a form of intrinsic motivation — curiosity — affects memory. These findings suggest ways to enhance learning in the classroom and other settings,” says lead author Dr. Matthias Gruber, of University of California at Davis.
For the study, participants rated their curiosity to learn the answers to a series of trivia questions. When they were later presented with a selected trivia question, there was a 14 second delay before the answer was provided, during which time the participants were shown a picture of a neutral, unrelated face. Afterwards, participants performed a surprise recognition memory test for the faces that were presented, followed by a memory test for the answers to the trivia questions. During certain parts of the study, participants had their brains scanned via functional magnetic resonance imaging.
The study revealed three major findings. First, as expected, when people were highly curious to find out the answer to a question, they were better at learning that information. More surprising, however, was that once their curiosity was aroused, they showed better learning of entirely unrelated information (face recognition) that they encountered but were not necessarily curious about. People were also better able to retain the information learned during a curious state across a 24-hour delay. “Curiosity may put the brain in a state that allows it to learn and retain any kind of information, like a vortex that sucks in what you are motivated to learn, and also everything around it,” explains Dr. Gruber.
Second, the investigators found that when curiosity is stimulated, there is increased activity in the brain circuit related to reward. “We showed that intrinsic motivation actually recruits the very same brain areas that are heavily involved in tangible, extrinsic motivation,” says Dr. Gruber. This reward circuit relies on dopamine, a chemical messenger that relays messages between neurons.
Third, the team discovered that when curiosity motivated learning, there was increased activity in the hippocampus, a brain region that is important for forming new memories, as well as increased interactions between the hippocampus and the reward circuit. “So curiosity recruits the reward system, and interactions between the reward system and the hippocampus seem to put the brain in a state in which you are more likely to learn and retain information, even if that information is not of particular interest or importance,” explains principal investigator Dr. Charan Ranganath, also of UC Davis.
The findings could have implications for medicine and beyond. For example, the brain circuits that rely on dopamine tend to decline in function as people get older, or sooner in people with neurological conditions. Understanding the relationship between motivation and memory could therefore stimulate new efforts to improve memory in the healthy elderly and to develop new approaches for treating patients with disorders that affect memory. And in the classroom or workplace, learning what might be considered boring material could be enhanced if teachers or managers are able to harness the power of students’ and workers’ curiosity about something they are naturally motivated to learn.
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/10/141002123631.htm

Citation:

How curiosity changes the brain to enhance learning
Date: October 2, 2014
Source: Cell Press
Summary:
The more curious we are about a topic, the easier it is to learn information about that topic. New research provides insights into what happens in our brains when curiosity is piqued. The findings could help scientists find ways to enhance overall learning and memory in both healthy individuals and those with neurological conditions.
States of Curiosity Modulate Hippocampus-Dependent Learning via the Dopaminergic Circuit
Matthias J. Gruber ,
Bernard D. Gelman,
Charan Ranganath
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2014.08.060
To view the full text, please login as a subscribed user or purchase a subscription. Click here to view the full text on ScienceDirect.
Highlights
• •People are better at learning information that they are curious about
• •Memory for incidental material presented during curious states was also enhanced
• •Curiosity associated with anticipatory activity in nucleus accumbens and midbrain
• •Memory benefits for incidental material depend on midbrain-hippocampus involvement
Summary
People find it easier to learn about topics that interest them, but little is known about the mechanisms by which intrinsic motivational states affect learning. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate how curiosity (intrinsic motivation to learn) influences memory. In both immediate and one-day-delayed memory tests, participants showed improved memory for information that they were curious about and for incidental material learned during states of high curiosity. Functional magnetic resonance imaging results revealed that activity in the midbrain and the nucleus accumbens was enhanced during
states of high curiosity. Importantly, individual variability in curiosity-driven memory benefits for incidental material was supported by anticipatory activity in the midbrain and hippocampus and by functional connectivity between these regions. These findings suggest a link between the mechanisms supporting extrinsic reward motivation and intrinsic curiosity and highlight the importance of stimulating curiosity to create more effective learning experiences.

Here is the press release from Cell Press Journal:

PUBLIC RELEASE DATE:
2-Oct-2014
Contact: Mary Beth O’Leary
moleary@cell.com
617-397-2802
Cell Press
@CellPressNews
How curiosity changes the brain to enhance learning
The more curious we are about a topic, the easier it is to learn information about that topic. New research publishing online October 2 in the Cell Press journal Neuron provides insights into what happens in our brains when curiosity is piqued. The findings could help scientists find ways to enhance overall learning and memory in both healthy individuals and those with neurological conditions.
“Our findings potentially have far-reaching implications for the public because they reveal insights into how a form of intrinsic motivation—curiosity—affects memory. These findings suggest ways to enhance learning in the classroom and other settings,” says lead author Dr. Matthias Gruber, of University of California at Davis.
For the study, participants rated their curiosity to learn the answers to a series of trivia questions. When they were later presented with a selected trivia question, there was a 14 second delay before the answer was provided, during which time the participants were shown a picture of a neutral, unrelated face. Afterwards, participants performed a surprise recognition memory test for the faces that were presented, followed by a memory test for the answers to the trivia questions. During certain parts of the study, participants had their brains scanned via functional magnetic resonance imaging.
The study revealed three major findings. First, as expected, when people were highly curious to find out the answer to a question, they were better at learning that information. More surprising, however, was that once their curiosity was aroused, they showed better learning of entirely unrelated information (face recognition) that they encountered but were not necessarily curious about. People were also better able to retain the information learned during a curious state across a 24-hour delay. “Curiosity may put the brain in a state that allows it to learn and retain any kind of information, like a vortex that sucks in what you are motivated to learn, and also everything around it,” explains Dr. Gruber.
Second, the investigators found that when curiosity is stimulated, there is increased activity in the brain circuit related to reward. “We showed that intrinsic motivation actually recruits the very same brain areas that are heavily involved in tangible, extrinsic motivation,” says Dr. Gruber. This reward circuit relies on dopamine, a chemical messenger that relays messages between neurons.
Third, the team discovered that when curiosity motivated learning, there was increased activity in the hippocampus, a brain region that is important for forming new memories, as well as increased interactions between the hippocampus and the reward circuit. “So curiosity recruits the reward system, and interactions between the reward system and the hippocampus seem to put the brain in a state in which you are more likely to learn and retain information, even if that information is not of particular interest or importance,” explains principal investigator Dr. Charan Ranganath, also of UC Davis.
The findings could have implications for medicine and beyond. For example, the brain circuits that rely on dopamine tend to decline in function as people get older, or sooner in people with neurological conditions. Understanding the relationship between motivation and memory could therefore stimulate new efforts to improve memory in the healthy elderly and to develop new approaches for treating patients with disorders that affect memory. And in the classroom or workplace, learning what might be considered boring material could be enhanced if teachers or managers are able to harness the power of students’ and workers’ curiosity about something they are naturally motivated to learn.
###
Neuron, Gruber et al.: “States of curiosity modulate hippocampus-dependent learning via the dopaminergic circuit.”

Parents can help foster curious kids.

Justin Coulson writes in the article, Raising smart, curious children:

Parents can do several things that will foster curiosity and a love of learning in their children, and help them grow up intellectually stimulated and successful.
• Model a love of learning. Be seen reading, finding answers, and discovering things yourself. Your children will watch and learn from you.
• Embrace the motto “we try new things”. Whether it is a new meal, a new sport, a new holiday destination, or a new way of cleaning the house, let your children know that you want to try new things and discover things you previously did not know much about.
• Teach your children to find answers. When your children ask you a question, rather than answering them directly encourage them to find out for themselves. Point them to references, the Internet, or other useful sources.
• Ask questions. If your child is curious about something, find out why. Encourage discussion. Find out what s/he knows already. When your child makes a statement (about anything) you can ask “why” and have an interesting conversation. Your demonstration of curiosity can be a terrific example to your children
• Be willing to talk. It is often easy for a parent to say “I’ll tell you later”, or “Not now, I’m busy.” Such responses will dampen the enthusiasm and curiosity a child has for a subject. Be being available, your child will be able to pursue a love of learning and all you have to do is facilitate it.
• Provide tools for learning by visiting the library, buying books from the shops, and having access to the Internet available for appropriate learning activities.
• Eliminate the use of rewards for learning. Research shows that the more we reward someone for a task, the less interested they become in the task. When rewards are offered, people generally become more interested in the reward than in the process required to obtain the reward. Instead, encourage curiosity for its own sake….. http://www.kidspot.com.au/schoolzone/Study-tips-Raising-smart-curious-children+4165+304+article.htm

Education is a partnership and parents must help educators foster curiosity in children.

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.
Albert Einstein

Resources:

How Can Teachers Foster Curiosity? http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/06/04/33shonstrom.h33.html

How to Stimulate Curiosity http://ideas.time.com/2013/04/15/how-to-stimulate-curiosity/

Six ways to build greater curiosity in students http://edge.ascd.org/blogpost/six-ways-to-build-greater-curiosity-in-students

How to Ignite Intellectual Curiosity in Students http://www.edutopia.org/blog/igniting-student-curiousity-inquiry-method

Where information leads to Hope. © Dr. Wilda.com

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

Blogs by Dr. Wilda:

COMMENTS FROM AN OLD FART©
http://drwildaoldfart.wordpress.com/

Dr. Wilda Reviews ©
http://drwildareviews.wordpress.com/

Dr. Wilda ©
https://drwilda.com/

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University of Pennsylvania study: Parents’ education affects child’s working memory

8 May

Teachers and administrators as well as many politicians if they are honest know that children arrive at school at various points on the ready to learn continuum. Teachers have to teach children at whatever point on the continuum the children are. Jay Matthews reports in the Washington Post article, Try parent visits, not parent takeovers of schools. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/try-parent-visits-not-parent-takeovers-of-schools/2012/05/30/gJQAlDDz2U_story.html
The key ingredient is parental involvement. The Wisconsin Council on Children and Families (Council) has a great policy brief on parental involvement. http://www.wccf.org/pdf/parentsaspartners_ece-series.pd
Parent involvement is crucial to the success of children.

Daniel S. Dinsmoor, Ph. D. wrote the article, Why is Working Memory Important?

Working memory is usually classified as having two forms. The first is verbal working memory and the second is visual-spatial working memory. Verbal working memory involves being able to remember things that are said to us and the manipulation of language based cognitive material. Visual-spatial working memory is used to remember anything that is seen. So this could include sequences of events, visual patterns and images. Visual-spatial working memory is often involved in mathematical skills. Children vary in terms of the size of their working memory capacity. Research into working memory gives us factual information about how this cognitive process develops. We know for example, that working memory gradually increases through childhood into early adulthood. Generally speaking, a child at five years of age can hold one item in mind, a seven years old child can hold two items in mind, a 10 -year-old can hold three items, and a 14 year old can hold four items in mind. A child who has a working memory capacity that’s much greater than other children in his class, may find class boring and unmotivating. A child whose working memory capacity is much smaller relative to other members in the class may experience the academic work as being such a struggle that they no longer can continue to be motivated to do it.
Contrary to what one might expect, how many years in preschool a child has does not affect working memory. That is, starting preschool at an early age does not increase working memory capacity. Similarly, parent’s social economic level or their number of years of education does not correlate well with the working memory capacity of their child.
Without intervention, difficulties with working memory do not improve over time (we will discuss interventions that help later in this article). So if a child in the third grade is seen to have a significant problem with working memory, that child will also have a significant problem with working memory in high school.
Recent research indicates that working memory is even more important than IQ in terms of determining educational outcome. It is possible to understand in this context why there are some very bright children who are not succeeding in the classroom. There is a correlation between working memory and Attention Deficit Disorder. The correlation is not perfect, but there is a fairly substantial overlap between those two types of problems. It is interesting to see that some researchers in the study of ADD, inattentive type suggest that working memory challenges are an essential element in the disorder…. http://www.familycompassgroup.com/articles/attentionLearningChallenges/110428_workingMemory.php

MedicineNet.com defines working memory in the article, Definition of Working memory:

Working memory is a system for temporarily storing and managing the information required to carry out complex cognitive tasks such as learning, reasoning, and comprehension. Working memory is involved in the selection, initiation, and termination of information-processing functions such as encoding, storing, and retrieving data.
One test of working memory is memory span, the number of items, usually words or numbers, that a person can hold onto and recall. In a typical test of memory span, an examiner reads a list of random numbers aloud at about the rate of one number per second. At the end of a sequence, the person being tested is asked to recall the items in order. The average memory span for normal adults is 7 items. http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=7143

The University of Pennsylvania researchers studied working memory in a longitudinal study. See, Penn and CHOP Researchers Track Working Memory From Childhood Through Adolescence http://www.upenn.edu/pennnews/news/penn-and-chop-researchers-track-working-memory-childhood-through-adolescence

Science Daily reported in the article, Working memory differs by parents’ education; effects persist into adolescence:

Working memory — the ability to hold information in your mind, think about it, and use it to guide behavior — develops through childhood and adolescence, and is key for successful performance at school and work. Previous research with young children has documented socioeconomic disparities in performance on tasks of working memory. Now a new longitudinal study has found that differences in working memory that exist at age 10 persist through the end of adolescence. The study also found that parents’ education — one common measure of socioeconomic status — is related to children’s performance on tasks of working memory, and that neighborhood characteristics — another common measure of socioeconomic status — are not. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, West Chester University, and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, appears in the journal Child Development…. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140430083137.htm#

Citation:

Working memory differs by parents’ education; effects persist into adolescence

Date: April 30, 2014

Source: Society for Research in Child Development
Summary:
A new longitudinal study has found that differences in working memory — the ability to hold information in your mind, think about it, and use it to guide behavior — that exist at age 10 persist through the end of adolescence. The study also found that parents’ education — one common measure of socioeconomic status — is related to children’s performance on tasks of working memory. The researchers studied more than 300 10- through 13-year-olds over four years.
Journal Reference:
1. Daniel A. Hackman, Laura M. Betancourt, Robert Gallop, Daniel Romer, Nancy L. Brodsky, Hallam Hurt, Martha J. Farah. Mapping the Trajectory of Socioeconomic Disparity in Working Memory: Parental and Neighborhood Factors. Child Development, 2014; DOI: 10.1111/cdev.12242

Here is the press release from the Society for Research in Child Development:

PUBLIC RELEASE DATE:
30-Apr-2014
Contact: Hannah Klein
hklein@srcd.org
202-289-0320
Society for Research in Child Development
Working memory differs by parents’ education; effects persist into adolescence
Working memory—the ability to hold information in your mind, think about it, and use it to guide behavior—develops through childhood and adolescence, and is key for successful performance at school and work. Previous research with young children has documented socioeconomic disparities in performance on tasks of working memory. Now a new longitudinal study has found that differences in working memory that exist at age 10 persist through the end of adolescence. The study also found that parents’ education—one common measure of socioeconomic status—is related to children’s performance on tasks of working memory, and that neighborhood characteristics—another common measure of socioeconomic status—are not.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, West Chester University, and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, appears in the journal Child Development.
“Understanding the development of disparities in working memory has implications for education,” according to Daniel A. Hackman, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Pittsburgh who led the study when he was a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania. “Persistent disparities are a potential source of differences in academic achievement as students age and as the demands of both school work and the social environment increase.
“Our findings highlight the potential value of programs that promote developing working memory early as a way to prevent disparities in achievement,” Hackman continues. “The fact that parents’ education predicts working memory suggests that parenting practices and home environments may be important for this aspect of cognitive development and as a fruitful area for intervention and prevention.”
To look at the rate of change in working memory in relation to different measures of socioeconomic status, the researchers studied more than three hundred 10- through 13-year-olds from urban public and parochial schools over four years. The sample of children was racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse. Each child completed a number of tasks of working memory across the four-year period. The researchers gathered information on how many years of education the parents of each child had completed, as well as on neighborhood characteristics, looking—for example—at the degree to which people in a child’s neighborhood lived below the poverty line, were unemployed, or received public assistance.
Neither parents’ education nor living in a disadvantaged neighborhood was found to be associated with the rate of growth in working memory across the four-year period. Lower parental education was found to be tied to differences in working memory that emerged by age 10 and continued through adolescence. However, neighborhood characteristics were not related to working memory performance.
The study suggests that disparities seen in adolescence and adulthood start earlier in childhood and that school doesn’t close the gap in working memory for children ages 10 and above. Generally, children whose parents had fewer years of education don’t catch up or fall further behind by the end of adolescence, when working memory performance reaches mature levels.
That said, the findings of this study do not suggest that working memory is not malleable. Interventions that strengthen working memory in children, such as training games, may help children with lower levels of working memory improve and reduce disparities.
###
The study was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the National Institute of Mental Health.
Summarized from Child Development, Mapping the Trajectory of Socioeconomic Disparity in Working Memory: Parental and Neighborhood Factors by Hackman, DA (currently at University of Pittsburgh, formerly at University of Pennsylvania), Betancourt, LM (The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia), Gallop, R (West Chester University), Romer, D (University of Pennsylvania), Brodsky, NL (The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia), Hurt, H (The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine), and Farah, MJ (University of Pennsylvania). Copyright 2014 The Society for Research in Child Development, Inc. All rights reserved.

It is going to take coordination between not only education institutions, but a strong social support system to get many of children through school. This does not mean a large program directed from Washington. But, more resources at the local school level which allow discretion with accountability. For example, if I child is not coming to school because they have no shoes or winter coat, then the child gets new shoes and/or a coat. School breakfast and lunch programs must be supported and if necessary, expanded. Unfortunately, schools are now the early warning system for many families in crisis.

Related:

Tips for parent and teacher conferences https://drwilda.com/2012/11/07/tips-for-parent-and-teacher-conferences/

Common Sense Media report: Media choices at home affect school performance
https://drwilda.com/2012/11/01/common-sense-media-report-media-choices-at-home-affect-school-performance/

Parents can use tax deductions to pay for special education needs
https://drwilda.com/2012/10/24/parents-can-use-tax-deductions-to-pay-for-special-education-needs/

Intervening in the lives of truant children by jailing parents
https://drwilda.com/2012/10/07/intervening-in-the-lives-of-truant-children-by-jailing-parents/

Making time for family dinner https://drwilda.com/2012/09/10/making-time-for-family-dinner/

Embracing parents as education leaders https://drwilda.com/2012/11/28/embracing-parents-as-education-leaders/

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