Developmental Aspects of Working and Associative Memory

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Developmental Aspects of Working and Associative Memory

Nicholas S. Thaler1, Gerald Goldstein2,*, Jay W. Pettegrew3, James F. Luther2, Cecil R. Reynolds4, Daniel N. Allen1

1University of Nevada Las Vegas, Las Vegas, NV, USA

2VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, Pittsburgh, PA, USA

3University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, PA, USA

4Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, USA

*Corresponding author at: VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, 7180 Highland Drive, Pittsburgh, PA, 15206, USA. Tel.: 4129545356; fax: 4129545371. E-mail address: (G. Goldstein).

Accepted 29 November 2012


Developmental differences between working and long-term associative memory were evaluated through a cross-sectional age difference study based on data from a memory battery’s standardization sample. The scores of 856 children and adolescents ranging from 5 to 17 years of age were compared on memory subtests that assess verbal working and long-term memory. Data were examined using curve fitting and ANOVA procedures that evaluated age group and years of age differences. The major finding was that the developmental trajectories across age differed substantially between the two memory domains. The working memory trajectory was linear until age 11, whereas the long-term memory trajectory was curvilinear with an inflection point at age 8. Both trajectories plateaued after age 11. ANOVAs produced significant interactions between tests of working and associative memory with age, supporting the view that the age trajectories had differing courses. The results are discussed in terms of neurobiological implications for the two memory systems studied.

Keywords: Learning and memory; Assessment

Working memory has been defined as a limited capacity memory system that provides temporary storage to manipulate information for complex cognitive tasks, whereas long-term memory refers to the storage and retrieval of information beyond the initial few seconds (Baddeley, 1966; Baddeley & Hitch, 1974). It is now evident that there are differences in long-term and working memory development related to their underlying neural structures and neurobiological changes throughout childhood and adolescence (Costa-Mattiloi & Sonenberg, 2008; Ho¨tting, Katz-Biletzky, Malina, Lindenau, & Bengner, 2010). Long-term memory is encoded primarily in the medial temporal structures before diffusing throughout the cortex, whereas working memory is primarily associated with frontal and parietal regions (Fletcher & Henson, 2001; Squire, 2004; Townsend, Richmond, Vogel-Farley, & Thomas, 2010). As these regions differentially mature in typically developing youth (Bauer, 2008), it is likely that the memory abilities linked to each structure may in turn demonstrate different trajectories through early childhood and adolescence.


The VISN IV Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinic Center (MIRECC), VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System and the Medical Research Service, Department of Veterans Affairs are acknowledged for support of this research.


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