Individuals with Down syndrome tend to have a marked impairment of verbal short-term memory. The chief aim of this study was to investigate whether phonemic discrimination contributes to this deficit. The secondary aim was to investigate whether phonological representations are degraded in verbal short-term memory in people with Down syndrome relative to control participants. To answer these questions, two tasks were used: a discrimination task, in which memory load was as low as possible, and a short-term recognition task that used the same stimulus items. Individuals with Down syndrome were found to perform significantly better than a nonverbal-matched typically developing group on the discrimination task, but they performed significantly more poorly than that group on the recognition task. The Down syndrome group was outperformed by an additional vocabulary-matched control group on the discrimination task but was outperformed to a markedly greater extent on the recognition task. Taken together, the results strongly indicate that phonemic discrimination ability is not central to the verbal short-term memory deficit associated with Down syndrome.
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