Corellational study of memory span and age


Over many years, all types of scientists have intrigued over the complex idea of memory and the under lying mechanism. Though it is difficult to concretely point out everything, we do possess vast available information about memory. This literature review focuses mostly on how memory span varies as individuals’ progress through their life cycles. The paper discusses a correlation study done on people of different age groups using a popular memory game, to see whether there is a notable variation as one progresses through their life cycle.

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Development is inevitable and carries consequences that are mostly unavoidable. Biological phenomenons such as the growth of limbs, the articulation of speech and the improvement of cognitive function is something that would inevitably occur under normal conditions. Development always carries forth many changes physically and mentally. The main concern addressed in this paper is whether the changes that happen mentally reflect on memory and how it changes as we develop and mature.

The paper discusses results of a correlation study conducted on the hypothesis that; memory span differs among age groups. The correlation study consisted of testing different age groups in a popular memory game that rates and gives you a score. The main goal was to achieve a normative result so that it could be compared among different age groups and to check whether it’s in line with our hypothesis.

The hypothesis gets its empirical basis from the idea that all mental processes develop as a human being develops. Memory span being a mental process should follow the same principles and develop better to be more efficient and reliable. The alternative hypothesis is that there is a point along the level of development of the memory span where it reaches a halt; known as the optimum point, and starts to decrease after.


Sample groups taken from 5 age groups are compared. Age groups ranged from 5-10 year olds, 11-20 year olds, 21-30 year olds, 31-40 year olds and then 40 years and above. Sample groups consisted mostly of 3 individuals according to specific age group. Samples were obtained through social media for simplicity.

A memory game called “Memory Matrix” was utilized to test the hypothesis. Memory Matrix is the newest brain training game available at lumosity; a well known figure for its comprehensive and educative games that test and enhance cognitive functioning. Likewise, Memory Matrix is designed to exercise and improve spatial working memory and object recall.

In the game basically a pattern will appear on the screen and the subject must repeat this pattern by clicking the tiles representing the pattern which is shown prior. The game is scored in the following way. A successful tile click is worth 10 points, the first level of tiles is an additional 5 points and each subsequent level is the double of its predecessor e.g.; 5, 10,20,40,80,160 respectively. There are 15 trials in the game and you must go through all of them. In the end, all accumulated points are summed up and presented as the subjects overall score or performance and the level they reached.

The game was administered through a hyperlink which directed the subject to the game on the specific website. This was done through social media specifically contacting the subject of the specific age group. Before administration of the hyperlink a few briefing procedures were involved.

The subject was first briefed on the nature of the experiments and its purpose, educated on how the experiment is conducted and that it would remain anonymous. The subject was instructed how to undergo the experiment and encouraged not to cheat or utilize external support other than one’s self. After doing so the subject was given a time limit to undergo the experiment and then the results were sent to us directly after the subjected had undergone the aforementioned 15 trials.

The information was then recorded and noted down alongside many age groups and their results for further comparison and analysis.


The summation of results came from 15 subjects in total, 3 from the each of the 5 age groups. The results considered were the score and the level of tiles they had reached. The results were as follows;

The third line of subjects shown in green, performed in a similar pattern compared to the second line of subjects show in red. Both groups showed an increase in memory span along the age groups and reached a peak at age group 11-20 and then dropped. In contrast, the first line showed a peak at 21-30 years age group and a drastic drop as it went along the age groups. However; similarly an increase in memory span as they went along the age group till as similar point from where they dropped was noticed in the results.

This graph shows the levels reached by the subjects among age groups. The lines represent the same subjects in the previous graph. As the results show a similar pattern to the previous graph is seen with the similar same variation of peak with the outlier blue line and the other two lines.

Literature Review.

The discussion about memory span and whether or not it decreased or increases with age has always been a prominent agenda on the minds of many brilliant thinkers. Along with these brilliant thinkers came many research that either proved or disapproved the hypothesis that memory span increased with age. A study done by Timothy A. Salthouse contradicts the hypothesis however proves the alternative hypothesis; where when a person reaches a certain age their memory span decreases, according to timothy this happens due to the lack of ability to use primary cognitive abilities efficiently which ultimately impairs the working memory and many other functions in the brain (Salthouse, 1991). Though this does not run in line with the initial hypothesis it does show a significant similarity with the alternative hypothesis but it does not talk about the earlier age groups.

Similarly, again Timothy A. Salthouse and Renee L. Babcock wrote a review based on two studies that they did along adults aging 18 and 87, the results showed a negative correlation; similar to the previous study conducted by Salthouse, the review highlights the fact age effects mostly the processing speed of memory which in turns effects the working memories abilities too, therefore a decrease in memory span is noticed as age rises (Salthouse T. A., 1991).

In contrast to all these similar believes; a review by Susan E. Gathercole and her colleagues finally supported the hypothesis and the alternative hypothesis at the same time. The review talked about studies done on children 4-15 years of age, who were given standardized working memory models where the results indicated that there was an increase in memory span from the beginning of 6 years till early and middle school years to adolescence (Gathercole, 2004 ). These studies agree with the hypothesis that the memory span increases as the age groups move on, but only to some extent, furthermore; the alternative hypothesis was proven without a doubt correct as the studies discussed earlier in comparison with these studies sum up to relate to the alternative hypothesis.

In addition another study conducted by Susan E. Gathercole and her colleagues, showed more depth into children’s memory. The study was done on 7 and 14 years old, to get the direct relation between memory and performance level, it showed that children who had better memory capacity performed better in mathematics and science, however; little correlation between English performance and as children grow older they get better in all this subject meaning you grow in your working memory area too (Gathercole S. E., 2004).

Book written by Donald H. Kausler opens up the world of memory into something interesting. His writings definitely reflect that the human mind evolves adapts and conquers through classical conditioning and operant conditioning; basically learning causes the brain to grown, and the growth of this brain in turns makes the mind stronger and better in its processes; and this development happens along the lifespan, hence it shows that the life span increase cause an increase in major cognitive processes and memory is one of the processes henceforth the important should be noted carefully (Kausler, 1994).

On the other hand, a very intriguing study that proves both hypothesis’s wrong has been put up by Anderson Ericsson and Walter Kintsch. They believed that memory can be enhanced through practice and many mental exercises; they took chess masters as an example to show how their memory span works, where they can place chess pieces and play mentally without using a real board and showing great working memory skill to be able to remember like that; this requires much performance and high intelligence, hence the idea of memory is very susceptible to a lot of factors (Ericsson, 1995). This research disregards out hypothesis that there can be a systematic and gradual way of explaining the change of development, whether it is natural to develop memory and/or have it diminish in strength as life progresses. The internal nature beliefs are replaced by more nurture belief, where the idea that through mental activities and cognition enhancing practices we are able to increase out mental strength and processing speed ultimately leading to increase working memory (Ericsson, 1995).

Other studies have shown an interesting relation with brain regions to memory. Again leaning favor towards the more nature side however not in the way that would benefit us to learn how memory develops gradually and systematically as the individual grows up. Molecular brain research studies show that the hippocampus is a crucial part in the brain that deals with memories and any damage to this specific area can hinder memory and cause a lot of memory related problems such as amnesia, this relates to working memory in such a way that a certain damage could disable their abilities to remember things that just happen even; certain dementias could do this, therefore; this also falls into factors that can change the way memory changes again showing non gradual and irregular changes in memory capacity (Veng, 2003).

Similarly children with language impairments, children seem to show trouble in their working memory, with decreased memory spans and less electiveness, which could be because of the inability to associate the things you want to be memories and the available symbols or phonemes to associate with, hence the lack of elaborative rehearsal or just simply not being able to give it a category or simpler way to store it in the brain makes It very difficult for children with language impairments (Weismer, 1999).


The results did not really prove to be satisfactory of the initial hypothesis. Considering that a gradual increase in memory span was not shown in the graphs, but instead the graph showed more of a rise and fall pattern which is more applicable to the alternative hypothesis, therefore; the belief that memory span increases up to an optimum point and then drastically falls down. This pattern is supported by the results as the graph lines for the first, second and third lines of subjects showed an optimum point and then drastic fall and a gradual rise prior to all of the events which definitely fits perfectly. However, what cannot be explained is why the peak age group differed between one group and the other two groups. The first line of subjects showed the peak in ages 21-30 which was opposite to what the other 2 subject lines showed; a peak at 11-20. There could be many factors contributing to this case, factors such as an IQ of the subject, the competitiveness, his/her experience with the game, cheating and many other various factors that could have taken place to directly affect the result.

When we actually look at the study there are many flaws. Though systematically organized and carefully planned the sample size was way too small to make an accurate study. The results could not be generalized because of the small sample and therefore could not be considered statistically significant or empirical. Moreover since the method used was social networking you tend to pick mostly friends and then these same people will be your subject and they would want to help you out hence they will try to perform better. And during that try they will contaminate the objectivity of the whole study.

Furthermore, the games were administered via a social network, without anyone invigilating the subject. Henceforth; cannot be sure whether the results have been tampered with or someone had just changed the results or altered it. The games were more subjective than objective. Also the same nationality of people being interviewed and administered the test to seem to think alike, therefore it’s would be inaccurate to assume that any other person would show the same behaviors as the rest of the subjects being interviewed, highly unlikely.


Despite all the complications and flaws of the experiment, the results strongly supported the alternative hypothesis which is actually more sensible to happen and common sense dictate that the memory capacity cannot increase over a certain age group. For future studies I suggest utilizing a more diverse and bigger sample size, giving special attention to IQ and trying to the best average sample size as possible. Furthermore, disregard the initial hypothesis and focus more on developing a better version of the alternative hypothesis, so that we can pinpoint when and where does the capacity reaches the peak in a normal human being and when it decreases.


Ericsson, K. A. (1995). Long-term working memory. . Psychological review 102(2) , 221.

Gathercole, S. E. (2004 ). The structure of working memory from 4 to 15 years of age. Developmental Psychology 40(2) , 177.

Gathercole, S. E. (2004). Working memory skills and educational attainment: Evidence from national curriculum assessments at 7 and 14 years of age. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 18(1), , 1-16.

Kausler, D. H. (1994). Learning and Memory in Aging. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Salthouse, T. A. (1991). Decomposing adult age differences in working memory. Developmental Psychology 27(5) , 763.

Salthouse, T. A. (1991). Mediation of adult age differences in cognition by reductions in working memory and speed of processing. Psychological Science, 2(3) , 179-183.

Veng, L. M. (2003). Age-related working memory impairment is correlated with increases in the L-type calcium channel protein ? 1D (Ca v 1.3) in area CA1 of the hippocampus and both are ameliorated by chronic nimodipine treatment. Molecular Brain Research, 110(2) , 193-202.

Weismer, S. E. (1999). An examination of verbal working memory capacity in children with specific language impairment. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 42(5), , 1249-1260.

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