MU researcher studies link between attention and language

3 months 3 weeks 7 hours ago January 03, 2017 Jan 3, 2017 Tuesday, January 03 2017 Tuesday, January 03, 2017 1:08:00 PM CST in News
By: Marissa Rubino, KOMU 8 News Reporter

COLUMBIA - A recent research study, done in part by a University of Missouri professor, could help teachers find new ways to work with kids with learning disabilities. 

The study involved children without any learning disabilities, but the patterns the study uncovered brings new light to the understanding of how children learn. The study explored both working memory and attention.

Nelson Cowan is a psychology professor at the university and was a leading researcher on the study. 

"Working memory is the small amount of information that one holds in consciousness. It's used to carry out comprehension, production of language, and problem solving," said Cowan. 

In the study, done on grade school aged kids, Cowan found that being able to focus attention is a key part of using working memory. 

Cowan said that working memory has been found to be deficient in children with dyslexia or a reading disability. 

The attention component is important because the study concluded that being able to hold information in attention is vital for using working memory.

Cowan said that the capacity children have for attention and working memory actually varies, observing that when children reach their limits, their behavior can be misunderstood as disobedience. In actuality, Cowan believes these limits should be handled with care. 

"There have been attempts to train working memory directly and they've not been particularly successful. You can train strategies to deal with particular situations but you can't necessarily improve one's brain power by over and over again carrying out difficult working memory tasks," Cowan said. "Instead, I think the lesson is to begin to understand what might be going on in the cases of difficulty." 

Cowan says his team has research ongoing on dyslexia and working memory. 

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