Working Memory Mediates the Effects of Gestational Age at Birth on Expressive Language Development in Children

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Objective: This study tested the role of temporary memory, measured by phonological short-term memory (pSTM) and verbal working memory (vWM), as a mediator of the effect of 3 putative risk factors (i.e., socioeconomic status, home literacy environment, birth gestational age) upon expressive and receptive language. Method: A community-based sample of 646 Italian children aged 6–11 years was assessed with a comprehensive battery of language and cognitive tests. A mediation analysis was used to examine whether memory mediates environmental/biological effects on language. Results: The results demonstrated a developmental cascade of effects, whereby the duration of pregnancy drives vWM functioning that, in turn, may affect expressive linguistic outcome Conclusion: Treatments focused on vWM, specifically to preterm children, may improve their language development, with enduring consequences on educational and psychosocial outcomes.

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