Verbal short-term memory in Down's syndrome: An articulatory loop deficit?

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Background. Verbal short-term memory, as measured by digit or word span, is generally impaired in individuals with Down's syndrome (DS) compared to mental age-matched controls. Moving from the working memory model, the present authors investigated the hypothesis that impairment in some of the articulatory loop sub-components is at the base of the deficient maintenance and recall of phonological representations in individuals with DS. Methods. Two experiments were carried out in a group of adolescents with DS and in typically developing children matched for mental age. In the first experiment, the authors explored the reliance of these subjects on the subvocal rehearsal mechanism during a word-span task and the effects produced by varying the frequency of occurrence of the words on the extension of the word span. In the second experiment, they investigated the functioning of the phonological store component of the articulatory loop in more detail. Results. A reduced verbal span in DS was confirmed. Neither individuals with DS nor controls engaged in spontaneous subvocal rehearsal. Moreover, the data provide little support for defective functioning of the phonological store in DS. Conclusions. No evidence was found suggesting that a dysfunction of the articulatory loop and lexicalsemantic competence significantly contributed to verbal span reduction in subjects with DS. Alternative explanations of defective verbal short-term memory in DS, such as a central executive system impairment, must be considered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)80-92
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Intellectual Disability Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2004


  • Articulatory loop deficit
  • Down's syndrome
  • Verbal short-term memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Health Professions(all)
  • Rehabilitation
  • Genetics(clinical)
  • Education
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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