Developmental Changes in Working Memory A Multicomponent View

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Graham J. Hitch

Working memory is the part of the human memory system that serves cognition by maintaining temporary information in an active state. Its limited capacity is thought to constrain performance in activities such as reading (Just & Carpenter, 1992), reasoning (Hitch & Baddeley, 1976), and mental calculation (Furst & Hitch, 2000). In view of such a wideranging role, it is not surprising that the development of working memory has been seen as playing an important role in cognitive development (Case, 1985; Halford, Wilson & Phillips, 1998). However, while the theoretical concept of working memory is at a stage of maturity where there is agreement on many points, several outstanding issues remain (see, e.g., the recent volume edited by Miyake & Shah, 1999). An important distinction is between working memory as a unitary system (Engle, Tuholski, Laughlin & Conway, 1999) or as multiple subsystems, each with a different capacity and function (Baddeley & Hitch, 1974; Baddeley, 1986). The present chapter describes research suggesting that a multiple subsystems approach is needed to describe the development of working memory. The broader question of how the development of working memory relates to cognitive development is not systematically addressed. However, links between components of working memory and different aspects of cognitive development are emphasized where they illustrate the value of the multicomponent approach.

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