Comparing reading acquisition and working memory capacity in children and adults learning to read

Comparing reading acquisition and working memory capacity in children and adults learning to read

First Author: ROSANGELA GABRIEL -- UNIVERSIDADE DE SANTA CRUZ DO SUL
Additional authors/chairs: 
Régine Kolinsky; José Morais
Keywords: Reading acquisition, Working memory, Adult Literacy, Phonological awareness, Reading instruction
Abstract / Summary: 

Purpose: Former research has brought evidence suggesting that the acquisition of literacy changes the way in which we store and process information. To further investigate this issue, and in particular to check whether learning an alphabetic reading system modifies memory and executive functions, we ran two transversal studies. Method: One study with children before and after learning to read, and one study comparing illiterate adults to both ex-illiterates (who learned to read at adult age) and adults (who learned to read during childhood) were conducted in the South of Brazil. 120 children - aged 5 to 7 years old, and 31 adults - illiterates, ex-illiterates and literate adults, matched in socioeconomics status (SES), were tested to verify accuracy, fluency and comprehension in reading (among others, TIL/LOBROT Test) and to verify memory capacity and executive functions (among them, Corsi Block Tapping Test, Stroop Task e Castle Task, adapted). Results: As demonstrated by Morais (1979), illiterates (children and adults) could not delete a phoneme in the beginning of a non-word. However, ex-illiterates adults and children learning to read show increasingly sensibility to phoneme boundaries. Teaching the names of the letters, instead of the phonemes they represent, seems to add an unfruitful complexity to the learning process, especially for illiterate adults. Conclusion: Spatial memory capacity doesn’t seem to be affected by reading proficiency in adults, while language information storage seems to heavily depend on literacy skills, both in adults and children, with progressive improvement in linguistic working memory capacity as literacy develops.