Neuroanatomical Correlates of Behavioral Rating Versus Performance Measures of Working Memory in Typically Developing Children and Adolescents

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The frequent lack of correspondence between performance and observational measures of executive functioning, including working memory, has raised questions about the validity of the observational measures. This study was conducted to investigate sources of this discrepancy through correlation of volumetric and cortical thickness (CT) neuroimaging values with performance and questionnaire measures of working memory (WM).


Using longitudinal data from the NIH MRI Study of Normal Brain Development (Volumes, N= 347, 54.3% female; CT, N= 350, 54.6% female; age range: 6 to 16.9 years), scores on the Behavioral Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF) WM, Emotional Control (EC) and Inhibition (INH) scales; Wechsler Scale of Intelligence for Children-III Digit Span; and Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Battery Spatial Working Memory (CANTAB SWM) were correlated with each other and with morphometric measurements using mixed effects linear regression models.


BRIEF WM was correlated with CANTAB SWM (p < .001). With whole brain correction, BRIEF WM and EC were both correlated with CT of the posterior parahippocampal gyrus (PHG), EC on the right side only. Performance measures of WM were unrelated to lobar volumes or CT, but were associated with volumes of hippocampus and amygdala.


The known role of PHG in contextual learning suggests that the BRIEF WM assesses contextualized learning/memory, potentially explaining its loose correspondence to the decontextualized performance measures. Observational measures can be useful and valid functional metrics, complementing performance measures. Labels used to characterize scales should be interpreted with caution, however.

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