Are Working Memory Measures Free of Socioeconomic Influence? Purpose This study evaluated the impact of socioeconomic factors on children’s performance on tests of working memory and vocabulary. Method Twenty Brazilian children, aged 6 and 7 years, from low-income families, completed tests of working memory (verbal short-term memory and verbal complex span) and vocabulary (expressive and receptive). ... Research Article
Research Article  |   December 01, 2008
Are Working Memory Measures Free of Socioeconomic Influence?
 
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Pascale Marguerite Josiane Engel
    University of York, York, United Kingdom
  • Flávia Heloísa Santos
    São Paolo State University-UNESP, Assis-SP, São Paolo, Brazil
  • Susan Elizabeth Gathercole
    University of York
  • Contact author: Pascale M. J. Engel, Department of Psychology, University of York, Heslington, York YO10 5DD, United Kingdom. E-mail: p.engel@psychology.york.ac.uk.
Article Information
Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / Language / Research Articles
Research Article   |   December 01, 2008
Are Working Memory Measures Free of Socioeconomic Influence?
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, December 2008, Vol. 51, 1580-1587. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2008/07-0210)
History: Received September 6, 2007 , Revised November 30, 2007 , Accepted March 6, 2008
 
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, December 2008, Vol. 51, 1580-1587. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2008/07-0210)
History: Received September 6, 2007; Revised November 30, 2007; Accepted March 6, 2008
Web of Science® Times Cited: 64

Purpose This study evaluated the impact of socioeconomic factors on children’s performance on tests of working memory and vocabulary.

Method Twenty Brazilian children, aged 6 and 7 years, from low-income families, completed tests of working memory (verbal short-term memory and verbal complex span) and vocabulary (expressive and receptive). A further group of Brazilian children from families of higher socioeconomic status matched for age, gender, and nonverbal ability also participated in the study.

Results Children from the low socioeconomic group obtained significantly lower scores on measures of expressive and receptive vocabulary than their higher income peers but no significant group differences were found on the working memory measures.

Conclusion Measures of working memory provide assessments of cognitive abilities that appear to be impervious to substantial differences in socioeconomic background. As these measures are highly sensitive to language ability and learning in general, they appear to provide useful methods for diagnosing specific learning difficulties that are independent of environmental opportunity.

Acknowledgments
This project was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Experimental Psychology Society. The authors wish to thank the schools, parents, and children who consented to participate in this study. We also wish to thank Carlos J. Tourinho de Abreu Neto for his help on the test design. The Automated Working Memory Assessment (AWMA; Alloway, 2007) was translated to Portuguese and was reproduced with the permission of Harcourt Assessment (now Pearson Assessment).
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