Are working memory and behavioral attention equally important for both reading and listening comprehension? A developmental comparison

Language, Richard Lomax, Ann O’Connell, Jill Pentimonti, Stephen A. Petrill, Shayne B. Piasta, Shelley Gray, Maria Restrepo, Kate Cain, Hugh Catts, Mindy Bridges, Diane Nielsen, Tiffany Hogan, Jim Bovaird, J. Ron Nelson, H. Jiang, K. Farquharson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


We investigated the extent to which working memory and behavioral attention predicted reading and listening comprehension in grades 1 through 3 and, whether their relative contributions differed by modality and grade. Separate grade samples (N = 370; ns = 125, 123, and 122 for grades 1, 2, and 3 respectively) completed multiple measures of word reading, working memory, and parallel measures of reading and listening comprehension. Teachers and parents provided behavioral attention ratings. Concurrently, working memory was more important for listening than for reading comprehension and predicted significant variance in both modalities across grades, after controlling for background measures and behavioral attention ratings. For both modalities, working memory explained the greatest proportion of variance in grade 3. Behavioral attention predicted variance in grades 1 and 2 for reading comprehension and all grades for listening comprehension. Subsidiary analyses demonstrated that the influence of working memory and behavioral attention on reading comprehension was indirect, through word reading and listening comprehension both concurrently and also longitudinally between grades 1–3. These findings indicate that delivery of classroom materials orally will not always be beneficial to the young beginner reader or one who struggles with word decoding, and that children with poor working memory/attention may require additional support to access meaning from both written and spoken text.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1449-1477
Number of pages29
JournalReading and Writing
Issue number7
StatePublished - Sep 1 2018


  • Attention
  • Listening comprehension
  • Reading comprehension
  • Word reading
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


Dive into the research topics of 'Are working memory and behavioral attention equally important for both reading and listening comprehension? A developmental comparison'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this