Word-length effect in verbal short-term memory in individuals with Down's syndrome

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BackgroundMany studies have indicated that individuals with Down's syndrome (DS) show a specific deficit in short-term memory for verbal information. The aim of the present study was to investigate the influence of the length of words on verbal short-term memory in individuals with DS.MethodsTwenty-eight children with DS and 10 control participants matched for memory span were tested on verbal serial recall and speech rate, which are thought to involve rehearsal and output speed.ResultsAlthough a significant word-length effect was observed in both groups for the recall of a larger number of items with a shorter spoken duration than for those with a longer spoken duration, the number of correct recalls in the group with DS was reduced compared to the control subjects. The results demonstrating poor short-term memory in children with DS were irrelevant to speech rate. In addition, the proportion of repetition-gained errors in serial recall was higher in children with DS than in control subjects.ConclusionsThe present findings suggest that poor access to long-term lexical knowledge, rather than overt articulation speed, constrains verbal short-term memory functions in individuals with DS.

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