The Development of Nonverbal Working Memory and Executive Control Processes in Adolescents


  • This work was supported by the McKnight Land-Grant Professorship awarded to the first author as well as a seed grant from the University of Minnesota's Center for Neurobehavioral Development. Thanks are extended to Kristin Sullwold and Dustin Wahlstrom for their assistance with data collection. Heather Conklin is now at the Kennedy Krieger Institute.

concerning this article should be addressed to Monica Luciana, Department of Psychology, 75 East River Road, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455. Electronic mail may be sent to


The prefrontal cortex modulates executive control processes and structurally matures throughout adolescence. Consistent with these events, prefrontal functions that demand high levels of executive control may mature later than those that require working memory but decreased control. To test this hypothesis, adolescents (9 to 20 years old) completed nonverbal working memory tasks with varying levels of executive demands. Findings suggest that recall-guided action for single units of spatial information develops until 11 to 12 years. The ability to maintain and manipulate multiple spatial units develops until 13 to 15 years. Strategic self-organization develops until ages 16 to 17 years. Recognition memory did not appear to develop over this age range. Implications for prefrontal cortex organization by level of processing are discussed.