The developmental influence of primary memory capacity on working memory and academic achievement

Debbora Hall, Christopher Jarrold*, John N. Towse, Amy L. Zarandi

*Corresponding author for this work

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

12 Citations (Scopus)
454 Downloads (Pure)


In this study, we investigate the development of primary memory capacity among children. Children between the ages of 5 and 8 completed 3 novel tasks (split span, interleaved lists, and a modified free-recall task) that measured primary memory by estimating the number of items in the focus of attention that could be spontaneously recalled in serial order. These tasks were calibrated against traditional measures of simple and complex span. Clear age-related changes in these primary memory estimates were observed. There were marked individual differences in primary memory capacity, but each novel measure was predictive of simple span performance. Among older children, each measure shared variance with reading and mathematics performance, whereas for younger children, the interleaved lists task was the strongest single predictor of academic ability. We argue that these novel tasks have considerable potential for the measurement of primary memory capacity and provide new, complementary ways of measuring the transient memory processes that predict academic performance. The interleaved lists task also shared features with interference control tasks, and our findings suggest that young children have a particular difficulty in resisting distraction and that variance in the ability to resist distraction is also shared with measures of educational attainment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1131-1147
Number of pages17
JournalDevelopmental Psychology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2015

Bibliographical note

Date of Acceptance: 06/05/2015

Structured keywords

  • Memory


  • Managing distraction
  • Mathematics
  • Primary memory
  • Reading
  • Working memory


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