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Working Memory and Language Laboratory

We are interested in how children remember the words they hear or read, especially when they have other things distracting them. Our research tries to what kinds of distractions are too distracting, and why some children are better than others at remember

  • ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Overview


    What is Working Memory?

    Working memory refers to the ability to remember information for short periods of time in order to solve a problem or accomplish a task.  Remembering a list of ingredients while navigating the grocery store, following the steps of a recipe, and converting fractions for a double-batch of cookies all require working memory.  Working memory isn't only useful for cooking. It's used whenever you have to figure out something new, and it supports long-term learning.

    Why is language important to working memory?

    Working memory is important for making sense of language.  We can only hear or read words one-at-a-time. Therefore, we must hold onto the words—and their order—while simultaneously creating meaning and thinking about our own response. Children with hearing loss must especially rely on working memory. Because the auditory signal they get is sometimes ambiguous, children with hearing loss often problem-solve to work out the meaning of what they hear.

    Current Projects:


    If we want to ignore parts of our visual world, we can easily just turn around or shut our eyes. Children with typical hearing cannot just "turn off" their hearing; therefore, the auditory world poses a constant opportunity for distraction in children. Although the presence of irrelevant sound impairs memory in children, we believe that it also provides a valuable opportunity to learn to control attention in the face of distraction. First, we want to understand how these attentional processes develop in typically-hearing children to support memory and learning. Then we will explore how attentional development is impacted by a period of hearing deprivation and the subsequent ability to "turn off" hearing aids and cochlear implants.


    It is common for adults to talk to themselves when they need to remember something. When an adult silently says the same word or phrase over and over in an attempt to commit it to memory, we call this rehearsal. Unfortunately, we know much less about how and when children rehearse. In this project, we measure how children's rehearsal changes as the memory task gets harder. We also want to know how children's use of rehearsal changes over time.


  • Team

    Angela AuBuchon, Ph.D., is the Director of the Working Memory and Language Laboratory.  Her doctoral training was conducted at the University of Missouri under the mentorship of Dr. Nelson Cowan, whose Embedded Processes Model of Working Memory serves as one of the most-often-cited alternatives to Alan Baddeley's Multicomponent Model. In 2012, she moved to Bloomington, Indiana where she received postdoctoral training from Dr. David B. Pisoni. Her postdoctoral work investigated the executive function of children and adolescents with cochlear implants. Prior to earning her Ph.D., Dr. AuBuchon worked as a behavioral interventionist with Missouri FirstSteps and the Judevine Center for Autism in St. Louis, Missouri. These experiences inspire her to apply her deep theoretical training to answer clinically relevant questions.

    Grace Meissner, B.A., is a research assistant in the Working Memory and Language Laboratory. She received her bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Nebraska Omaha in 2015. She is currently working on her master's degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. Grace has had previous experience working with children and adults with developmental disabilities. She has worked as a direct support professional at the Autism Center of Nebraska and as a special education paraprofessional at Bellevue Public Schools.  


    Dr. Denis F. Fitzpatrick, Research Computer Engineer III, Boys Town National Research Hospital

    Dr. Emily Elliot, Professor, Louisiana State University

    Dr. James Heaton, Associate Professor, Harvard Medical School; Associate Neuroscientist, Mass. General Hosp.; Professor, MGH Institute of Health Professions

  • Publications

    Selected Publications

    AuBuchon, A.M., Pisoni, D.B. & Kronenberger, W.G. (2015). Short-Term and Working Memory Impairments in Early-Implanted, Long-Term Cochlear Implant Users are Independent of Audibility and Speech Production.Ear and Hearing, 36(6), 733-737.

    AuBuchon, A. M., Pisoni, D. B., & Kronenberger, W. G. (2015). Verbal Processing Speed and Executive Functioning in Long-Term Cochlear Implant Users.Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 58(1), 151-162.

    Montag, J. L., AuBuchon, A. M., Pisoni, D. B., & Kronenberger, W. G. (2014). Speech intelligibility in deaf children after long-term cochlear implant use. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 57(6), 2332-2343.

    Cowan, N., AuBuchon, A.M., Gilchrist, A.L., Ricker, T.J., & Saults, J.S. (2011). Age differences in visual working memory capacity: Not based on encoding limitations. Developmental Science, 14, 1066-1074.

    Cowan, N., Hismjatullina, A., AuBuchon, A.M., Saults, J.S., Horton, N., Leadbitter, K., & Towse, J. (2010). With development, list recall includes more chunks, not just larger ones. Developmental Psychology, 46(5), 1119-1131.

    Cowan, N., Morey, C. C., AuBuchon, A. M., Zwilling, C. E., & Gilchrist, A. L. (2010). Seven- year-olds allocate attention like adults do unless working memory is overloaded. Developmental Science, 13, 120-133.

    Cowan N. & AuBuchon A. M. (2008). Short-term memory loss over time without retroactive stimulus interference. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 15, 230-235.

  • Participate

    We are currently inviting children ages 7 to 10 with normal hearing to participate in our studies. To sign your child up to participate, you can complete the online research participation form or contact our lab directly:

    Working Memory and Language Laboratory
    Phone: 531-355-5680

    Directions and Parking

    Your research appointment will take place at the Boys Town National Research Hospital, which is located at 555 N 30th St at the intersection of 30th & Cass St. The Research Hospital has a parking area (South Patient Lot) directly east of the building.  Enter the double doors where you will see the Security office. Please follow the hallway to the left and go to the elevators.  Your appointment is on the third floor. Once you get off the elevators, proceed to the phone on the right side and call 5680. The lab is named the Working Memory and Language Lab 3A35.

    If you have any additional questions or concerns, you may call Barb Peterson at 531-355-5031.

    When you arrive

    A research staff member will greet you at the door and escort you to the lab. The staff member will explain the process and answer any questions you may have. You and your child will be given a form to formally consent to participate in the study.

    During the visit

    Your child will be given a hearing and vision screening by our staff audiologist. Some participants may receive additional language and neurocognitive testing. The length of the visit varies, but tend to be 1-2 hours. Your child will be given frequent breaks.

    During the study, your child will be asked to remember numbers, words, or pictures. Your child may be asked to listen to sounds through headphones. You will be able to watch your child through a window in the room next door. 

    After the visit

    When we are done, your child will be paid for their time. He or she will also get to pick out a book and a small prize. Our studies usually only require only one visit so you will not need to return for a follow-up.

  • Resources

    The Learning Scientists

    A blog on issues of attention, memory, and learning. Cognitive psychologists Megan Sumeracki and Yana Weinstein (as well as their amazing team of guest bloggers) summarize research findings for students, educators, parents, and anyone who wants to learn how to learn.

    The Psych Show

    Clinical psychologist Ali Mattu brings psychology to life in his personal, often nerd-inspired, explanations of psychological phenomenon. His YouTube channel features topics on sci-fi ("The Last Jedi Psychology Explained") with the same thoroughness as his overviews of mental health ("How to overcome social anxiety").

    It's a Noisy Planet, Protect Their Hearing

    An educational campaign supported by the National Institutes of Health, Noisy Planet provides resources to teach children about how hearing works and how to prevent hearing loss.