The structure of working memory in young children and its relation to intelligence

Shelley Gray, S. Green, M. Alt, T. Hogan, T. Kuo, S. Brinkley, N. Cowan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

115 Scopus citations


This study investigated the structure of working memory in young school-age children by testing the fit of three competing theoretical models using a wide variety of tasks. The best fitting models were then used to assess the relationship between working memory and nonverbal measures of fluid reasoning (Gf) and visual processing (Gv) intelligence. One hundred sixty-eight English-speaking 7–9 year olds with typical development, from three states, participated. Results showed that Cowan's three-factor embedded processes model fit the data slightly better than Baddeley and Hitch's (1974) three-factor model (specified according to Baddeley, 1986) and decisively better than Baddeley's (2000) four-factor model that included an episodic buffer. The focus of attention factor in Cowan's model was a significant predictor of Gf and Gv. The results suggest that the focus of attention, rather than storage, drives the relationship between working memory, Gf, and Gv in young school-age children. Our results do not rule out the Baddeley and Hitch model, but they place constraints on both it and Cowan's model. A common attentional component is needed for feature binding, running digit span, and visual short-term memory tasks; phonological storage is separate, as is a component of central executive processing involved in task manipulation. The results contribute to a zeitgeist in which working memory models are coming together on common ground (cf. Cowan, Saults, & Blume, 2014; Hu, Allen, Baddeley, & Hitch, 2016).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)183-201
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017


  • Children
  • Episodic buffer
  • Nonverbal intelligence
  • Phonological loop
  • Visuospatial sketchpad
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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