Short-term Memory in Childhood Dyslexia: Deficient Serial Order in Multiple Modalities

Nelson Cowan, Tiffany P. Hogan, Mary Alt, Samuel Green, Kathryn L. Cabbage, Shara Brinkley, Shelley Gray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


In children with dyslexia, deficits in working memory have not been well-specified. We assessed second-grade children with dyslexia, with and without concomitant specific language impairment, and children with typical development. Immediate serial recall of lists of phonological (non-word), lexical (digit), spatial (location) and visual (shape) items were included. For the latter three modalities, we used not only standard span but also running span tasks, in which the list length was unpredictable to limit mnemonic strategies. Non-word repetition tests indicated a phonological memory deficit in children with dyslexia alone compared with those with typical development, but this difference vanished when these groups were matched for non-verbal intelligence and language. Theoretically important deficits in serial order memory in dyslexic children, however, persisted relative to matched typically developing children. The deficits were in recall of (1) spoken digits in both standard and running span tasks and (2) spatial locations, in running span only. Children with dyslexia with versus without language impairment, when matched on non-verbal intelligence, had comparable serial order memory, but differed in phonology. Because serial orderings of verbal and spatial elements occur in reading, the careful examination of order memory may allow a deeper understanding of dyslexia and its relation to language impairment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)209-233
Number of pages25
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2017


  • children
  • dyslexia
  • memory
  • specific language impairment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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