An investigation of children's working memory capacity for task rules

Felice Van 't Wout, Marike O'Donnell, Christopher Jarrold

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
93 Downloads (Pure)


Studies investigating the development of working memory typically measure children’s ability to maintain declarative information (e.g., lists of words) for a short period of time. But working memory also relies on the maintenance of procedural information such as task rules to guide behavior. In comparison to children’s working memory capacity for declarative information, little remains known about how children’s ability to maintain and act on procedural information in working memory develops throughout childhood. For this reason, Experiments 1 and 2 investigated whether children’s working memory capacity for task rules increased with age, using the increase in reaction time with the number of stimulus-response mappings as an index of working memory capacity. Children aged between 5 and 11 completed a stimulus identification task in which the number of stimulus-response rules was varied. Overall, set-size effects decreased with age, suggesting that younger children have a reduced working memory capacity for task rules. A proportional analysis of the reaction time data confirmed that age-related differences in overall reaction time cannot explain this finding. Finally, Experiment 3 demonstrated that age differences in basic capacity, rather than strategic ability, are the cause of the observed difference in working memory capacity. Hence, these results show that developmental differences in working memory capacity affect not only a child’s ability to recall information, but also their ability to act accordingly.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-31
Number of pages18
JournalCognitive Development
Early online date30 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2019

Structured keywords

  • Memory
  • Cognitive Science
  • Developmental (Psychological Science)


  • Working memory capacity
  • Working memory development
  • Procedural representations
  • Task rules


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