Examining factors associated with visuospatial working memory development from infancy through the preschool years
Barr, Rachel F
In early childhood, the development of executive functioning (EF) takes place. This complex system comprised of working memory, inhibitory control, and shifting is crucial for successful cognitive and socio-emotional development. A subcomponent of working memory is visuospatial working memory (VSWM). VSWM is defined as maintaining, updating, and manipulating visual and spatial information in the short-term, while ignoring irrelevant yet potentially salient distracting information. This ability emerges early in infancy and develops throughout the preschool years.This dissertation examines the development of VSWM of children between 18-months and 5-years of age on several tasks with varying levels of complexity. Both established object-based and newly developed touchscreen tasks are considered. Chapter two examines factors associated with performance on a simple 3-location object occlusion VSWM task, called Hide the Pots, by 18- and 24-month-olds. In study 1, infants performed significantly worse after a 10s delay than after a 2s delay. Performance was associated with individual differences in productive vocabulary. In study 2 removing color as a cue did not impact performance by 18-month-olds. Chapter 3 examines factors associated with performance on a complex complex 8-location object occlusion VSWM task called Spin the Pots in toddlerhood through preschool. There were age-related changes between 2- and 4-years of age; 4-year-olds performed significantly better on the task with girls out-performing boys. Chapter four developed a new task, Find the Stars, based upon the CANTAB Spatial Working Memory task with 3- to 5-years to provide a nonverbal and age-appropriate touchscreen-delivered measure of VSWM. The extent to which age and cognitive load effect performance on the working memory task and its’ relationship to inhibitory control, motor-spatial imitation, and parent report EF measures were assessed. There were age-related changes, associations on all three tasks, and a relationship between performance and parent report EF measures.The present dissertation demonstrates multiple factors associated with developmental changes in VSWM in the first five years of life. They include delay, vocabulary, visual perceptual cues, cognitive load, and other EF components. These findings have important implications for the assessment of VSWM and factors that relate to the trajectory of VSWM in early childhood.
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