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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Beyond storage : working memory and specific language impairment Moser, Rachel Megan


This study examined the auditory-verbal and visual-spatial working memory of children with Specific Language Impairment (SLI). In particular, the ability of 12 children with SLI (age 7-11 years) to coordinate storage and processing demands and manage information from different modalities was compared to that of a group of peers with normal language development. All children completed 6 working memory tasks. Two tasks tapped auditory-verbal working memory; children repeated auditorally presented words (storage) in the first task, then categorized the words by size of the referent before recall (storage + processing) in the second task. Two similar tasks in the visual-spatial domain required children to recall location of objects in a 4 x 4 grid (storage) or remember the locations and categorize the objects (storage + processing). Children with SLI had a reduced auditory-verbal working memory capacity relative to their peers, particularly when processing demands were high. In contrast, there was no group difference in the visual-spatial domain. Finally, two dual working memory tasks required children to remember words and locations, thereby managing information from two domains simultaneously. The children with SLI achieved lower span levels than their peers when information from the two domains was presented in an integrated way that required formation of a single mental representation. Performance in the working memory tasks was also related to narrative production as a means of explaining language use. The results of this project have implications that inform our understanding of SLI. Although the SLI children in this study evidenced a deficit that was localized to the auditory-verbal domain, the findings are not necessarily evidence for a specific processing deficit account of SLI. Memory strategies and temporal processing in children with SLI warrant further investigation. The results also inform our understanding of working memory. Across all tasks, the importance of using complex measures of working memory to uncover group differences and predict language skills surfaced. The usefulness of the construct of the central executive was questioned, because it is unclear how it could support processing differentially across domains. Further investigation of how working memory, measured independently from language, can predict language use is warranted.

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