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When is working memory important for arithmetic? The impact of strategy and age

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posted on 2017-12-15, 13:48 authored by Lucy Cragg, Sophie Richardson, Paula J. Hubber, Sarah Keeble, Camilla GilmoreCamilla Gilmore
Our ability to perform arithmetic relies heavily on working memory, the manipulation and maintenance of information in mind. Previous research has found that in adults, procedural strategies, particularly counting, rely on working memory to a greater extent than retrieval strategies. During childhood there are changes in the types of strategies employed, as well as an increase in the accuracy and efficiency of strategy execution. As such it seems likely that the role of working memory in arithmetic may also change, however children and adults have never been directly compared. This study used traditional dual-task methodology, with the addition of a control load condition, to investigate the extent to which working memory requirements for different arithmetic strategies change with age between 9–11 years, 12–14 years and young adulthood. We showed that both children and adults employ working memory when solving arithmetic problems, no matter what strategy they choose. This study highlights the importance of considering working memory in understanding the difficulties that some children and adults have with mathematics, as well as the need to include working memory in theoretical models of mathematical cognition.


This work was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council [Grant number RES-062-23-3280]. CG is funded by a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship.



  • Science


  • Mathematical Sciences

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CRAGG, L. ... et al, 2017. When is working memory important for arithmetic? The impact of strategy and age. PLoS ONE, 12 (12), e0188693.


Public Library of Science (PLoS) © Cragg et al.


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This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/ by/4.0/

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This is an Open Access Article. It is published by PLoS under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence (CC BY). Full details of this licence are available at: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/




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