Working memory and short-term memory deficits in ADHD: A bifactor modeling approach

Michael J. Kofler, Leah J. Singh, Elia F. Soto, Elizabeth S.M. Chan, Caroline E. Miller, Sherelle L. Harmon, Jamie A. Spiegel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Objective: Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has been associated with large magnitude impairments in working memory, whereas short-term memory deficits, when detected, tend to be less pronounced. However, confidence in these findings is limited due to task impurity combined with methodological and statistical limitations of the current evidence base. Method: A well-characterized, clinically evaluated sample of 172 children ages 8-13 years (M = 10.30, SD = 1.42; 72 girls; 64% White/non-Hispanic) were administered multiple, counterbalanced working memory tests. Bifactor-(s-1) modeling was used to characterize the presence and magnitude of central executive working memory, phonological short-term memory, and visuospatial short-term memory deficits in pediatric ADHD. Results: ADHD status was associated with very large magnitude impairments in central executive working memory that are present in most pediatric cases (d = 1.63-2.03; 75%-81% impaired), and these deficits covaried with ADHD inattentive and hyperactive/impulsive symptom severity based on both parent and teacher report. There was also evidence for a unique, albeit significantly smaller, impairment in visuospatial short-term memory (d = 0.60; 38% impaired); however, visuospatial short-term memory abilities did not covary with ADHD symptom severity. There was no evidence linking ADHD with phonological short-term memory deficits across either the dimensional or categorical analyses. Conclusion: These findings provide strong evidence that ADHD is associated with marked central executive working memory deficits that covary with their behavioral symptom presentation across settings. In contrast, visuospatial short-term memory deficits, when present, are likely epiphenomenal, and the most parsimonious conclusion appears to be that phonological short-term memory is intact in pediatric ADHD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)686-698
Number of pages13
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • ADHD
  • Central executive
  • Phonological
  • Visuospatial
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


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