Reading span task

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The reading span task (RST) is a common memory span task widely cited in, and adapted for, investigations of working memory, cognitive processing, and reading comprehension that was first published by Meredyth Daneman and Patricia Carpenter in 1980.[1]



The original RST required participants to read series of unconnected sentences aloud and to remember the final word of each sentence of a series (grouped according to the total number of sentences). With each sentence presented on a card, participants were cued to recall the memorized end-of-sentence words in their original order by a blank card at the end of a series. The number of sentences of a series was incrementally increased until a participant's reading span, or the maximum number of final words correctly recalled, was found.

The reading span task was the first instance of the family of "complex span" tasks (as opposed to "simple span" tasks). It is a complex verbal test because it draws upon both storage and processing (i.e., reading) elements of working memory, while simple verbal tests (e.g., word span) require the storage element alone.[2]


Besides the "listening span" variant also developed by Daneman and Carpenter,[1] several variants have been developed in recent years based upon the RST.[3][4][5][6][7][8][9]


In an attempt to formulate a standardized version of the RST, numerous problems with the original and variants of it have been critically examined.


Daneman and Carpenter found that reading span was much more strongly related to reading comprehension than word span. Later research corroborated the finding that reading span is more closely related to language comprehension than word span.[10]

Neurobiological basis[edit]

In a twin study of middle-aged men, a heritability rating of .51 was found for reading span, where genetic influences came from a common latent phenotype, viewed as most likely reflecting an executive function component.[11]


  1. ^ a b Daneman, M., & Carpenter, P. A. (1980). Individual differences in working memory and reading. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 19(4), 450-466.
  2. ^ Lobley, K.J., Baddeley, A.D., & Gathercole, S.E. (2005). Phonological similarity effects in verbal complex span. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 58A, 1462–1478.
  3. ^ Desmette, D., Hupet, M., Schelstraete, M.A., & Van der Linden, M. (1995). Adaptation en langue française du "Reading Span Test" de Daneman et Carpenter. [A French adaptation of Daneman and Carpenter's "Reading Span Test"] L'Annee Psychologique, 95, 459–482.
  4. ^ Kondo, H., & Osaka, N. (2004). Effect of concreteness of target word on verbal working memory: An evaluation using Japanese version of reading span test. Japanese Journal of Psychology, 71, 51–56.
  5. ^ LaPointe, L.B., & Engle, R.W. (1990). Simple and complex word spans as measures of working memory capacity. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 16, 1118–1133.
  6. ^ Payne, J.S., & Whitney, P.J. (2002). Developing L2 oral proficiency through synchronous CMC: Output, working memory, and interlanguage development. CALICO Journal, 20(1), 7–32.
  7. ^ Whitney, P., Ritchie, B.G., & Clark, M.B. (1991). Working memory capacity and the use of inferences in text comprehension. Discourse Processes, 14, 133–145.
  8. ^ Whitney, P., Arnett, P.A., Driver, A., & Budd, D. (2001). Measuring central executive functioning: What's in a reading span?. Brain and Cognition, 45, 1–14.
  9. ^ van den Noort, Maurits; Bosch, Peggy; Haverkort, Marco; Hugdahl, Kenneth (2008). "A Standard Computerized Version of the Reading Span Test in Different Languages". European Journal of Psychological Assessment. 24 (1): 35–42. doi:10.1027/1015-5759.24.1.35.
  10. ^ Daneman, M., & Merikle, P. M. (1996). Working memory and language comprehension: a meta-analysis. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 3, 422-433.
  11. ^ Kremen, W., Jacobsen, K., Xian, H., Eisen, S., Eaves, L., Tsuang, M., et al. (2007). Genetics of verbal working memory processes: A twin study of middle-aged men. Neuropsychology, 21(5), 569-580. doi:10.1037/0894-4105.21.5.569.

External links[edit]

A reading-span task variant implemented using flash.