Visual Working Memory Capacity Increases Between Ages 3 and 8 Years, Controlling for Gains in Attention, Perception, and Executive Control

Atten Percept Psychophys. 2016 Aug;78(6):1556-73. doi: 10.3758/s13414-016-1140-5.


Research in adults has aimed to characterize constraints on the capacity of Visual Working Memory (VWM), in part because of the system's broader impacts throughout cognition. However, less is known about how VWM develops in childhood. Existing work has reached conflicting conclusions as to whether VWM storage capacity increases after infancy, and if so, when and by how much. One challenge is that previous studies did not control for developmental changes in attention and executive processing, which also may undergo improvement. We investigated the development of VWM storage capacity in children from 3 to 8 years of age, and in adults, while controlling for developmental change in exogenous and endogenous attention and executive control. Our results reveal that, when controlling for improvements in these abilities, VWM storage capacity increases across development and approaches adult-like levels between ages 6 and 8 years. More generally, this work highlights the value of estimating working memory, attention, perception, and decision-making components together.

Keywords: Attention and executive control; Development; Visual working memory.

MeSH terms

  • Aging / psychology*
  • Attention / physiology
  • Child
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Executive Function / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*