Cognitive Approaches to the Development of Short-Term Memory

Trends Cogn Sci. 1999 Nov;3(11):410-419. doi: 10.1016/s1364-6613(99)01388-1.


The capacity to retain information for brief periods of time increases dramatically during the childhood years. The increases in temporary storage of speech-based material that take place in the period spanning the pre-school years and adolescence reflect complex changes in many of the different component processes, including perceptual analysis, construction and maintenance of a memory trace, retention of order information, rehearsal, retrieval and redintegration. Another crucial capacity that undergoes a similar striking development is complex working memory, the ability to manipulate and store material simultaneously. Possible sources of age-related changes in working memory include increases in processing efficiency and attentional capacity, and task-switching. These two short-term memory systems might play significant but distinct roles in supporting the acquisition of knowledge and skills during childhood. Whereas phonological short-term memory is linked specifically with the learning of the phonological structures of new words, complex working memory appears to support processing and learning in a wide range of contexts, in both childhood and adulthood.