Short-term memory deficits are not uniform in Down and Williams syndromes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Neuropsychological investigation of the development of the mnesic function in mental retardation has primarily focused on evaluating short-term memory (STM). Studies have often documented a reduced verbal short-term memory span in individuals with mental retardation and with Down syndrome in particular, compared to groups of mental age-matched controls. However, recent evidence suggests that verbal short-term memory is not equally impaired in all individuals with mental retardation. Findings in children with Williams syndrome are particularly relevant in this regard. Also, data concerning STM for visual information suggest that visual-object and visual-spatial working memory may be differently compromised in people with mental retardation. In particular, individuals with Williams syndrome exhibit specific difficulties in visual-spatial but not in visual-object working memory tasks compared to typically-developing children matched for mental age. Instead, people with Down syndrome show reduced performance in both visual-spatial and visual-object tests. Taken together, these results reinforce the view that intellectual disability is not a unitary condition characterized by homogeneous slowness of cognitive development but a variety of conditions in which some cognitive functions may be more disrupted than others. The finding that the working memory deficit in individuals with Williams and Down syndrome may be qualitatively differentiated also supports the hypothesis that it is not simply a manifestation of general cognitive impairment but, rather, the expression of a specific deficit of a discrete cognitive ability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-94
Number of pages8
JournalNeuropsychology Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2006


  • Genetic syndromes
  • Mental retardation
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Clinical Psychology

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