Vygotsky believed the influence of the environment was crucial for development, whereas Piaget believed that the child's ability to independently explore her world was important. Although neither researcher emphasized the role of physiological changes in the brain and their contribution to a child's increasing ability to process information, neither would deny the significance of those changes for development. Information-processing theories attempt to account for changes in a child's cognitive ability via interactions between the developing brain and the child's increasing knowledge of the world. For example, researchers interested in these interactions may examine changes in working memory and how a child's world knowledge affects it.
Working memory (sometimes called short-term memory) is the memory that allows a person to remember a phone number that he has just looked up in the phone book. It involves mental rehearsal processes that maintain the information in memory. The capacity of young children's working memory is under debate. Early on, researchers measured the number of digits children could remember. Results from this work suggested that children had a smaller working memory capacity compared to adults. For example, participants were asked to listen to a list of single digits and repeat them back in the order they had heard them. Researchers found that adults could typically remember between five and nine digits and children typically remembered about three or four.
Despite this clear result, other researchers, such as Robbie Case, argue that the overall capacity of working memory does not change over the course of development. What changes is the child's ability to efficiently process information. For example, in order to perform well on a digit span task one has to represent the numbers in some way. Adults and older children can quickly repeat the numbers aloud or in their mind. Case, D. Midian Kurland, and Jill Goldberg found that young children take longer to repeat a number. Therefore more of the young child's resources are taken up with saying the numbers than with efficiently remembering them.
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