Processing speed and visuospatial executive function predict visual working memory ability in older adults

Louise A. Brown, James R. Brockmole, Alan J. Gow, Ian J. Deary

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Visual working memory (VWM) has been shown to be particularly age sensitive. Determining which measures share variance with this cognitive ability in older adults may help to elucidate the key factors underlying the effects of aging.
Predictors of VWM (measured by a modified Visual Patterns Test) were investigated in a subsample (N = 44, mean age = 73) of older adults from the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 (LBC1936; Deary et al., 2007 , BMC Geriatrics, 7, 28). Childhood intelligence (Moray House Test) and contemporaneous measures of processing speed (four-choice reaction time), executive function (verbal fluency; block design), and spatial working memory (backward spatial span), were assessed as potential predictors.
All contemporaneous measures except verbal fluency were significantly associated with VWM, and processing speed had the largest effect size (r = -.53, p < .001). In linear regression analysis, even after adjusting for childhood intelligence, processing speed and the executive measure associated with visuospatial organization accounted for 35% of the variance in VWM.
Processing speed may affect VWM performance in older adults via speed of encoding and/or rate of rehearsal, while executive resources specifically associated with visuospatial material are also important.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalExperimental Aging Research
Issue number1
Early online date6 Jan 2012
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • processing speed
  • visuospatial executive function
  • visual working memory
  • older adults


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