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Parents’ Education Affects Children’s Performance on Tasks Involving ‘Working Memory’

Working memory, the ability to hold information in your mind and use it to guide behavior, develops through childhood and adolescence and is key for successful performance at school and work. Previous research with young children has documented socioeconomic disparities in performance on tasks of working memory.


Now, a new longitudinal study conducted by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and West Chester University has found that differences in working memory that exist at age 10 persist through adolescence. The study also found that parents’ education, a common measure of socioeconomic status, is related to children’s performance on tasks of working memory while neighborhood characteristics, another common measure of socioeconomic status, are not.


The study, published in the journal Child Development, was led by then-graduate student Daniel Hackman and professor Martha Farah, both of the Department of Psychology in Penn’s School of Arts & Sciences. They collaborated with Laura Betancourt, Nancy Brodsky and Hallam Hurt of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Daniel Romer of Penn’s Annenberg Public Policy Center and Robert Gallop of West Chester University.


“We wondered how the socioeconomic disparities seen in younger children’s working memory would change with further development,” Farah said. “Some researchers believed that the ongoing effects of living in a more or less deprived household would widen the gap over time; others thought that the lower SES kids might eventually catch up with their more privileged counterparts.  Instead, we found that the disparities hold steady. Without improved conditions or helpful interventions, the gap persists right through adolescence.”


For the full news release, click here.