Short-term memory capacity and sensitivity to language statistics in dyslexia and among musicians

Eva Kimel*, Atalia Hai Weiss, Hilla Jakoby, Luba Daikhin, Merav Ahissar

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Poor short-term memory (STM) capacity in individuals with dyslexia (IDDs) and enhanced STM capacity in musicians are well documented, yet their causes are disputed. Previous studies also found poor use of stimuli statistics by IDDs and enhanced use by musicians. We hypothesized that these observations are functionally related, as follows: Enhanced sensitivity to statistics facilitates musicians' benefit from each exposure, and reduced sensitivity to statistics hinders IDDs' benefit. Thus, larger group differences are expected for larger exposure: STM capacity, which is sensitive to item familiarity, will thus be larger among musicians, and smaller among IDDS, particularly for high-frequency items. Testing this hypothesis using syllable span, we found that musicians' advantage and IDDs' difficulty were indeed larger for high-frequency syllables than for low-frequency ones. By contrast, benefits from sequence repetition did not differ between musicians, controls and IDDs, suggesting that online sequence learning is based on a different mechanism. To test this dissociation we recruited, in addition to native Hebrew speakers, native English speakers, matched to the Hebrew-speaking controls. Their spans for high-frequency syllables in Hebrew, which do not have high frequency in English, were small - as expected from reduced exposure to these syllables. Yet, their benefit from sequence repetition was similar to that of the three Hebrew-speaking groups. Taken together, these experiments suggest that different sensitivities to item frequency explain some of the population-related variability in STM tasks. By contrast, benefits from sequence repetition do not depend on item familiarity, and do not differ between groups.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number107624
StatePublished - Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

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© 2020 The Authors


  • Dyslexia
  • Long-term memory
  • Memory span
  • Musicians
  • Sequence learning
  • Short-term memory


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