Cultural differences & developmental changes in working memory

January, 2010

A comparison of Ugandan and Senegalese children has found differences in which working memory system is dominant. This may be a product of literacy training.

‘Working memory’ is thought to consist of three components: one concerned with auditory-verbal processing, one with visual-spatial processing, and a central executive that controls both. It has been hypothesized that the relationships between the components changes as children develop. Very young children are more reliant on visuospatial processing, but later the auditory-verbal module becomes more dominant. It has also been found that the two sensory modules are not strongly associated in younger (5-8) American children, but are strongly associated in older children (9-12). The same study found that this pattern was also found in Laotian children, but not in children from the Congo, none of whom showed a strong association between visual and auditory working memory. Now a new study has found that Ugandan children showed greater dominance of the auditory-verbal module, particularly among the older children (8 ½ +); however, the visuospatial module was dominant among Senegalese children, both younger and older. It is hypothesized that the cultural differences are a product of literacy training — school enrolment was much less consistent among the Senegalese. But there may also be a link to nutritional status.

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