Home Mind & Brain New Nonlinguistic Tasks Effectively Measure Children’s Attention and Memory​, Finds New Study

New Nonlinguistic Tasks Effectively Measure Children’s Attention and Memory​, Finds New Study

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A new study has introduced new visual tasks designed to measure sustained selective attention (SSA) and working memory (WM) in children using nonlinguistic stimuli. These tasks are crucial for understanding foundational learning processes and their relation to developmental disorders in children. The findings, published in the journal Behavior Research and Methods, presents compelling evidence for the validity of these minimally linguistic tasks in capturing essential cognitive functions in children aged 4–10 years.

The study aimed to validate tasks that measure two key cognitive constructs (SSA and WM) without relying on linguistic elements. This approach was chosen to avoid disadvantaging children with diverse language-learning experiences or those with language impairments, such as developmental language disorder (DLD). Using an argument-based approach to validation, the researchers assessed whether each task measured distinct constructs; showed internal consistency; captured a range of performance; and related to age as an index of development.

The study involved 71 children, including 12 whose parents expressed concerns about language or learning issues. The SSA task required children to identify spatial locations over an extended period, following the continuous performance task (CPT) paradigm. The WM task involved recalling paired location sequences of increasing length, integrating elements from the n-back and complex span paradigms. The tasks were designed to be engaging yet challenging, ensuring minimal floor or ceiling effects within the targeted age range.

The tasks demonstrated strong validity across multiple measures. Internal consistency was high and the results were further supported by bootstrapping simulations, which confirmed the stability of these estimates. Performance on both tasks showed a positive correlation with age, indicating that the tasks effectively captured developmental changes in early school-aged children.

Interestingly, while SSA and WM tasks were related, the correlation was modest, suggesting that these tasks measured related but distinct constructs. This finding underscores the importance of assessing different aspects of cognitive processing separately. Moreover, exploratory correlations with parental concern were significant for SSA but not for WM, suggesting that SSA might be more closely related to observable developmental concerns.

The study’s findings have significant implications for understanding and diagnosing developmental disorders such as DLD and ADHD. Weaknesses in SSA and WM are common in children with these disorders. The use of nonlinguistic tasks provides a more accurate measure of these cognitive functions, potentially leading to better diagnosis and intervention strategies.

For instance, previous research has shown that children with DLD exhibit deficits in visuospatial working memory tasks. The minimally linguistic nature of the new tasks ensures that these deficits are not confounded by language difficulties. This aspect is crucial for developing targeted educational and therapeutic approaches that address specific cognitive weaknesses without the interference of language skills.

The study’s authors advocate for further research to explore the utility of these tasks in broader and more diverse populations. They suggest that future studies should examine the tasks’ effectiveness in identifying cognitive deficits in children with varied language-learning experiences, including bilingual children. Additionally, longitudinal studies could provide deeper insights into how SSA and WM develop over time and how these processes interact with other cognitive and academic skills.

The open-access nature of the tasks, available through the Open Science Framework, allows for widespread use and further validation by other researchers. This accessibility ensures that the tasks can be refined and adapted for different cultural and linguistic contexts, enhancing their utility in global educational and clinical settings.

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