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Two coloured images of a brain on a black background.

Warm colours such as yellow indicate brain regions that are especially active in children with strong working memories. The diagram is a group average of images from many children. Credit: Richard Watts and Monica Rosenberg

Neuroscience

A child’s memory prowess is revealed by brain patterns

High activity in certain brain regions reveals which children have the most robust working memory.

Working memory has been called the brain’s sticky note: a format for short-term storage and recall of information, such as a phone number or directions to a shop. Now, researchers have found that activity in a specific region of a child’s brain predicts the strength of their working memory.

Monica Rosenberg at the University of Chicago in Illinois and her colleagues analysed brain-scan data and performance scores on memory tasks and cognitive tests from 11,537 children aged 9 to 10. Compared with children who had average or below-average working memory, children with strong working memory had higher activity in a set of brain regions called the frontoparietal cortex. These children tended to have better language skills, and a better ability to solve problems in new situations.

The researchers found that brain activity in the frontoparietal network was related to working-memory ability when the children performed a working-memory task, but not during tests designed to measure impulsivity and reward processing.

The findings could help to explain how memory and cognition change across development, the researchers say.

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