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Working memory as a predictor of written arithmetical skills in children: The importance of central executive functions


Correspondence should be addressed to Dr UIf Andersson, Associate Professor, Department of Behavioural Sciences, Linköping University, SE-581 83 Linköping, Sweden (e-mail:


Background. The study was conducted in an attempt to further our understanding of how working memory contributes to written arithmetical skills in children.

Aim. The aim was to pinpoint the contribution of different central executive functions and to examine the contribution of the two subcomponents of children's written arithmetical skills.

Sample and method. A total of 141 third- and fourth-graders were administered arithmetical tasks and measures of working memory, fluid IQ and reading. Regression analysis was used to examine the relationship between working memory and written arithmetical skills.

Results. Three central executive measures (counting span, trail making and verbal fluency) and one phonological loop measure (Digit Span) were significant and predictors of arithmetical performance when the influence of reading, age and IQ was controlled for in the analysis.

Conclusions. The present findings demonstrate that working memory, in general, and the central executive, in particular, contribute to children's arithmetical skills. It was hypothesized that monitoring and coordinating multiple processes, and accessing arithmetical knowledge from long-term memory, are important central executive functions during arithmetical performance. The contribution of the phonological loop and the central executive (concurrent processing and storage of numerical information) indicates that children aged 9–10 years primarily utilize verbal coding strategies during written arithmetical performance.