Study: Parents’ Education Guides Children’s Working Memory

The education level of a child’s parents holds a direct impact on his or her working memory, a vital cog in the brain’s ability to retain information, think about it and act on it, according to a new study.

The other revealing finding of the survey was that differences in working memory between children that existed at age 10 were still there at  the end of adolescence, suggesting that schooling had no impact on improving the gap between children, according to an article written by Hannah Klein for the Society for Research in Child Development.

“Understanding the development of disparities in working memory has implications for education,” according to Daniel A. Hackman, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Pittsburgh who led the study when he was a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania. “Persistent disparities are a potential source of differences in academic achievement as students age and as the demands of both school work and the social environment increase.

“Our findings highlight the potential value of programs that promote developing working memory early as a way to prevent disparities in achievement,” Hackman continues. “The fact that parents’ education predicts working memory suggests that parenting practices and home environments may be important for this aspect of cognitive development and as a fruitful area for intervention and prevention.”

Previous work in the field suggested socioeconomic differences between children, but the current study’s results suggests that parents’ education was paramount, while other factors, such as neighborhood environment, are negligible.

Working memory is often confused with short-term memory, but according to an article on Medical Daily by Susan Scutti, working memory is far more vital, as it involves how well the brain can use and interpret data it receives.

Psychologists often use the idea of a scratch pad to describe working memory because it keeps information — a name or number or fact — on hand just long enough for your mind to use it.

The study was conducted by a team comprised of the University of Pennsylvania, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, West Chester University and the Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and appeared in a journal titled Child Development.

The study involved 316 children between the ages of 10-13 over a four-year period. Coming from a mixture or public and parochial schools and from all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, the children were screened on how many years of education their parents had, as well as current living conditions including living above, at or below the poverty level; employment and if their families were receiving government aid of some form.

Throughout the four years, the children were then repeatedly tested on working memory tasks.

The study found that children whose parents had fewer years of education either fell further behind or never caught up at the end of adolescence, regardless of their schooling experience.

According to scientific research, working memory reaches maturity levels around the age of 13.