Phonological, visual and semantic coding strategies and children’s short-term picture memory span

Henry, Lucy A.; Messer, David; Luger-Klein, Scarlett and Crane, Laura (2012). Phonological, visual and semantic coding strategies and children’s short-term picture memory span. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 65(10) pp. 2033–2053.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/17470218.2012.672997

Abstract

Three experiments addressed controversies in the previous literature on the development of phonological and other forms of short-term memory coding in children, using assessments of picture memory span that ruled out potentially confounding effects of verbal input and output. Picture materials were varied in terms of phonological similarity, visual similarity, semantic similarity, and word length. Older children (6/8-year-olds), but not younger children (4/5-year-olds), demonstrated robust and consistent phonological similarity and word length effects, indicating that they were using phonological coding strategies. This confirmed findings initially reported by Conrad (1971), but subsequently questioned by other authors. However, in contrast to some previous research, little evidence was found for a distinct visual coding stage at 4 years, casting doubt on assumptions that this is a developmental stage that consistently precedes phonological coding. There was some evidence for a dual visual and phonological coding stage prior to exclusive use of phonological coding at around 5-6 years. Evidence for semantic similarity effects was limited, suggesting that semantic coding is not a key method by which young children recall lists of pictures.

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