Working memory impairments in children with specific arithmetic learning difficulties

Janet F. McLean, Graham J. Hitch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

466 Citations (Scopus)


Working memory impairments in children with difficulties in arithmetic have previously been investigated using questionable selection techniques and control groups, leading to problems concluding where deficits may occur. The present study attempted to overcome these criticisms by assessing 9-year-old children with difficulties specific to arithmetic, as indicated by normal reading, and comparing them with both age-matched and ability-matched controls. A battery of 10 tasks was used to assess different aspects of working memory, including subtypes of executive function. Relative to age-matched controls, children with poor arithmetic had normal phonological working memory but were impaired on spatial working memory and some aspects of executive processing. Compared to ability-matched controls, they were impaired only on one task designed to assess executive processes for holding and manipulating information in long-term memory. These deficits in executive and spatial aspects of working memory seem likely to be important factors in poor arithmetical attainment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)240-260
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Working memory
  • Executive processes
  • Arithmetic
  • Children
  • Learning difficulties


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