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Measuring Working Memory With Digit Span and the Letter-Number Sequencing Subtests From the WAIS-IV: Too Low Manipulation Load and Risk for Underestimating Modality Effects

Jens Egeland
Applied Neuropsychology. Adult 2015, 22 (6): 445-51
The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) is one of the most frequently used tests among psychologists. In the fourth edition of the test (WAIS-IV), the subtests Digit Span and Letter-Number Sequencing are expanded for better measurement of working memory (WM). However, it is not clear whether the new extended tasks contribute sufficient complexity to be sensitive measures of manipulation WM, nor do we know to what degree WM capacity differs between the visual and the auditory modality because the WAIS-IV only tests the auditory modality. Performance by a mixed sample of 226 patients referred for neuropsychological examination on the Digit Span and Letter-Number Sequencing subtests from the WAIS-IV and on Spatial Span from the Wechsler Memory Scale-Third Edition was analyzed in two confirmatory factor analyses to investigate whether a unitary WM model or divisions based on modality or level/complexity best fit the data. The modality model showed the best fit when analyzing summed scores for each task as well as scores for the longest span. The clinician is advised to apply tests with higher manipulation load and to consider testing visual span as well before drawing conclusions about impaired WM from the WAIS-IV.


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