Working memory components that predict word problem solving: Is it merely a function of reading, calculation, and fluid intelligence?

Mem Cognit. 2017 Jul;45(5):804-823. doi: 10.3758/s13421-017-0697-0.


The purpose of this study was to assess whether the differential effects of working memory (WM) components (the central executive, phonological loop, and visual-spatial sketchpad) on math word problem-solving accuracy in children (N = 413, ages 6-10) are completely mediated by reading, calculation, and fluid intelligence. The results indicated that all three WM components predicted word problem solving in the nonmediated model, but only the storage component of WM yielded a significant direct path to word problem-solving accuracy in the fully mediated model. Fluid intelligence was found to moderate the relationship between WM and word problem solving, whereas reading, calculation, and related skills (naming speed, domain-specific knowledge) completely mediated the influence of the executive system on problem-solving accuracy. Our results are consistent with findings suggesting that storage eliminates the predictive contribution of executive WM to various measures Colom, Rebollo, Abad, & Shih (Memory & Cognition, 34: 158-171, 2006). The findings suggest that the storage component of WM, rather than the executive component, has a direct path to higher-order processing in children.

Keywords: Executive processing; Phonological processing; Working memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intelligence / physiology*
  • Language*
  • Male
  • Mathematical Concepts*
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Problem Solving / physiology*
  • Reading*