Serial order reconstruction in Down syndrome: evidence for a selective deficit in verbal short-term memory

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BackgroundIndividuals with Down syndrome consistently perform less well than appropriately matched comparison groups on tests of verbal short-term memory, despite performing relatively well on non-verbal short-term memory tasks. However, it is not clear whether these findings constitute evidence for a selective deficit in verbal short-term memory, or whether they instead reflect the influence of non-central factors such as speech difficulties or poor number knowledge.MethodsTwenty-six individuals with Down syndrome and 32 typically developing children were tested on a digit reconstruction task in which participants were presented with auditory digit sequences and responded by pressing the corresponding digits on a touch-screen in the correct serial order. Background measures were performance on a closely matched visuo-spatial reconstruction task, reaction time on a simple digit identification task, receptive vocabulary age and non-verbal ability (Raven's matrices). Participants were also tested on a conventional digit recall task.ResultsAll four background measures accounted for significant individual variation in digit reconstruction performance, but there remained a significant effect of group that reflected relatively poor performance of individuals with Down syndrome. Hierarchical regression showed that group membership accounted for unique variation in both digit reconstruction and recall performance, even after all group differences on background measures had been accounted for.ConclusionsThe results provide strong evidence that Down syndrome is associated with a selective deficit in verbal short-term memory, and a deficit in verbal serial order memory in particular. Implications for the language difficulties associated with Down syndrome are discussed.

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