The effects of phonological and visual-spatial interference on children’s arithmetical performance

Bruce McKenzie*, Rebecca Bull, Colin Gray

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

156 Citations (Scopus)


Investigations of the cognitive processes involved in adults’ mental arithmetic have shown the importance of phonological rather than visual codes in performance (e.g. Logie, Gilhooly & Wynn; 1994). However, children’s subjective descriptions of their strategies in arithmetic reveal much more variable strategy use, suggesting that both slave systems of working memory may be involved in arithmetical performance in this age group. This experiment tested children in two age groups (6 to 7 and 8 to 9 years) on a simple mental arithmetic task under three conditions; baseline, phonological disruption and visuospatial disruption, in an attempt to determine the cognitive processes and strategies being used in arithmetic at various points throughout development. The results showed significant and marked lowering of performance in the younger children with concurrent visuospatial disruption, a smaller effect being observed in the older children. Conversely, while the younger children were unaffected by concurrent phonological disruption the older children were. These results support the hypothesis that children use different strategies at different ages; younger children utilise almost exclusively visuospatial strategies in mental arithmetic, whereas older children use a mixture of phonological and visual-spatial strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)93-108
Number of pages16
JournalEducational and Child Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2003
Externally publishedYes


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