Prior research has suggested that people who stutter exhibit differences in some working memory tasks, particularly when more phonologically complex stimuli are used. This study aimed to further specify working memory differences in adults who stutter by not only accounting for linguistic demands of the stimuli but also individual differences in attentional control and experimental influences, such as concomitant processing requirements.
This study included 40 adults who stutter and 42 adults who do not stutter who completed the Attention Network Test (ANT; Fan et al., 2002) and three complex span working memory tasks: the Operation Span (OSPAN), Rotation Span, and Symmetry Span (Draheim et al., 2018; Foster et al., 2015; Unsworth et al., 2005, 2009). All complex span tasks were dual-tasks and varied in linguistic content in task stimuli.
Working memory capacities demonstrated by adults who stutter paralleled the hierarchy of linguistic content across the three complex span tasks, with statistically significant between-group differences in working memory capacity apparent in the task with the highest linguistic demand (i.e., OSPAN). Individual differences in attentional control in adults who stutter also significantly predicted working memory capacity on the OSPAN.
Findings from this study extend existing working memory research in stuttering by showing that: (1) significant working memory differences are present between adults who stutter and adults who do not stutter even using relatively simple linguistic stimuli in dual-task working memory conditions; (2) adults who stutter with stronger executive control of attention demonstrate working memory capacity more comparable to adults who do not stutter on the OSPAN compared to adults who stutter with lower executive control of attention.