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Scientific article
English

Short-term memory span: insights from sign language

Published inNature Neuroscience, vol. 7, no. 9, p. 997-1002
Publication date2004
Abstract

Short-term memory (STM), or the ability to hold information in mind for a few seconds, is thought to be limited in its capacity to about 7 +/- 2 items. Notably, the average STM capacity when using American Sign Language (ASL) rather than English is only 5 +/- 1 items. Here we show that, contrary to previous interpretations, this difference cannot be attributed to phonological factors, item duration or reduced memory abilities in deaf people. We also show that, despite this difference in STM span, hearing speakers and deaf ASL users have comparable working memory resources during language use, indicating similar abilities to maintain and manipulate linguistic information. The shorter STM span in ASL users therefore confirms the view that the spoken span of 7 +/- 2 is an exception, probably owing to the reliance of speakers on auditory-based rather than visually based representations in linguistic STM, and calls for adjustments in the norms used with deaf individuals.

Keywords
  • Adult
  • Americas
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory
  • Short-Term/physiology
  • Persons With Hearing Impairments
  • Phonetics
  • Reading
  • Sign Language
  • Verbal Learning/physiology
Affiliation Not a UNIGE publication
Funding
  • Autre - National Institutes of Health (DC04418 to D.B.; DC00167)
  • Autre - James S. McDonnell Foundation
Citation (ISO format)
BOUTLA, Mrim et al. Short-term memory span: insights from sign language. In: Nature Neuroscience, 2004, vol. 7, n° 9, p. 997–1002. doi: 10.1038/nn1298
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Article (Published version)
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ISSN of the journal1097-6256
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