Get access

Developmental consequences of poor phonological short-term memory function in childhood: a longitudinal study


Susan E. Gathercole, Department of Psychology, University of Durham, Science Laboratories, South Road, Durham DH1 3LE, UK; Tel: +191 3742625; Fax: +191 3747474; Email:


Background:  A longitudinal study investigated the cognitive skills and scholastic attainments at 8 years of age of children selected on the basis of poor phonological loop skills at 5 years.

Methods:  Children with low and average performance at 5 years were tested three years later on measures of working memory, phonological awareness, vocabulary, language, reading, and number skill.

Results:  Two subgroups of children with poor early performance on phonological memory tests were identified. In one subgroup, the poor phonological memory skills persisted at 8 years. These children performed at comparable levels to the control group on measures of vocabulary, language and mathematics. They scored more poorly on literacy assessments, but this deficit was associated with group differences in complex memory span and phonological awareness performance. The second subgroup of children performed more highly on phonological memory tests at 8 years, but had enduring deficits in language assessments from 4 to 8 years.

Conclusions:  Persistently poor phonological memory skills do not appear to significantly constrain the acquisition of language, mathematics or number skills over the early school years. More general working memory skills do, however, appear to be crucial.