Investigating the effect of self-cues on children and adults’ visuospatial and verbal working memory, and its applications in maths word problem solving

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Working memory (WM) is a limited cognitive system responsible for the temporary storage and manipulation of information. It is argued that the successful execution of WM tasks is dependent on attentional control. As self-cues have been associated with biases in attention, the present thesis sought to investigate, for the first time, the direct influence of self-cues on children and adults’ visuospatial and verbal WM. Additionally, the practical applications of self-cues in maths word problem solving were explored. Experiments 1 (children) and 2 (adults) investigated the effect of self-cues on visuospatial WM by displaying owned objects, as the self-cue, in a Corsi-block test. There was no difference in performance between owned and unowned objects. Experiments 3 (children) and 4 (adults) investigated this further with a stronger self-cue (a picture of the participant’s face). Again, neither children nor adults demonstrated a visuospatial WM performance advantage with the inclusion of self-cues. To investigate whether self-cues may benefit verbal WM, Experiment 5 (children) and Experiment 6 (adults) explored the effect of own-name using a listening recall test. It was found that both children and adults performed significantly better in the self-cue condition than when the test used an unknown referent’s name or no name. The finding suggests that incorporating self-cues in tasks which rely on verbal WM processing may benefit performance. This was supported in Experiment 7, in which children performed significantly better in maths word problems which included the personal pronoun, ‘you’, as the self-cue. The importance of the findings in Experiments 1 to 7 and the practical applications of self-cues, such as the use of self-cues to reduce WM demand in educational tasks, are discussed.
Date of Award27 Oct 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Abertay University
SupervisorJanet McLean (Supervisor) & Sheila Cunningham (Supervisor)


  • Working memory
  • Self-referencing
  • Self-cues
  • Visuospatial working memory
  • Verbal working memory
  • Maths word problem solving
  • Attention
  • Maths
  • Corsi-block

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