The development of mental processing: Efficiency, working memory, and thinking
AuthorDemetriou, Andreas P.
Spanoudis, George C.
SourceMonographs of the Society for Research in Child Development
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This Monograph aims to contribute to the information processing, the differential, and the developmental modeling of the mind, and to work these into an integrated theory. Toward this aim, a longitudinal study is presented that investigates the relations between processing efficiency, working memory, and problem solving from the age of 8 years to to the age of 16 years. The study involved 113 participants, about equally drawn among 8-, 10-, 12-, and 14-year-olds at the first testing; these participants were tested two more times spaced one year apart. Participants were tested with a large array of tasks addressed to processing efficiency (i.e., speed of processing and inhibition), working memory (in terms of Baddeley's model, phonological storage, visual storage, and the central executive of working memory), and problem solving (quantitative, spatial, and verbal reasoning). Confirmatory factor analysis validated the presence of each of the above dimensions and indicated that they are organized in a three-stratum hierarchy. The first stratum includes all of the individual dimensions mentioned above. These dimensions are organized, at the second stratum, in three constructs: processing efficiency, working memory, and problem solving. Finally, all second-order constructs are strongly related to a third-order general factor. This structure was stable in time. Structural equation modeling indicated that the various dimensions are interrelated in a cascade fashion so that more fundamental dimensions are part of more complex dimensions. That is, speed of processing is the most important aspect of processing efficiency, and it perfectly relates to the condition of inhibition, indicating that the more efficient one is in stimulus encoding and identification, the more efficient one is in inhibition. In turn, processing efficiency is strongly related to the condition of executive processes in working memory, which, in turn, is related to the condition of the two modality-specific stores (phonological and visual). Finally, problem solving is related to processing efficiency and working memory, the central executive in particular. All dimensions appear to change systematically with time. Growth modeling suggested that there are significant individual differences in attainment in each of the three aspects of the mind investigated. Moreover, each of the three aspects of the mind as well as their interrelations change differently during development. Mixture growth modeling suggested that there are four types of developing persons, each defined by a different combination of performance in these aspects of the mind. Some types are more efficient and stable developers than others. These analyses indicated that processing efficiency is a factor closely associated with developmental differences in problem solving, whereas working memory is associated with individual differences. Modeling by logistic equations uncovered the rates and form of change in the various dimensions and their reciprocal interactions during development. These findings are discussed from the point of view of information processing, differential, and developmental models of thinking, and an integrative model is proposed.