Visual Working Memory Continues to Develop Through Adolescence

Front Psychol. 2015 May 27;6:696. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00696. eCollection 2015.


The capacity of visual working memory (VWM) refers to the amount of visual information that can be maintained in mind at once, readily accessible for ongoing tasks. In healthy young adults, the capacity limit of VWM corresponds to about three simple objects. While some researchers argued that VWM capacity becomes adult-like in early years of life, others claimed that the capacity of VWM continues to develop beyond middle childhood. Here we assessed whether VWM capacity reaches adult levels in adolescence. Using an adaptation of the visual change detection task, we measured VWM capacity estimates in 13-year-olds, 16-year-olds, and young adults. We tested whether the capacity estimates observed in early or later years of adolescence were comparable to the estimates obtained from adults. Our results demonstrated that the capacity of VWM continues to develop throughout adolescence, not reaching adult levels even in 16-year-olds. These findings suggest that VWM capacity displays a prolonged development, similar to the protracted trajectories observed in various other aspects of cognition.

Keywords: adolescence; cross-sectional; prolonged development; visual working memory; working memory capacity.