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The Digit Span Backwards Task

Verbal and Visual Cognitive Strategies in Working Memory Assessment

Published Online:

Abstract. The “digit span backwards” (DSB) is the most commonly used test in clinical neuropsychology to assess working memory capacity. Yet, it remains unclear how the task is solved cognitively. The present study was conducted to examine the use of visual and verbal cognitive strategies in the DSB. Further, the relationship between the DSB and a complex span task, based on the Simultaneous Storage and Processing task (Oberauer et al., 2003), was investigated. Visualizers performed better than verbalizers in the dual task condition (rPB = .23) only when the relevant digits were presented optically. Performance in the DSB correlated only weakly with the complex span task in all conditions (all τ ≤ .21). The results indicate that the processing modality is determined by the preference for a cognitive strategy rather than the presentation modality and suggest that the DSB measures different working aspects than commonly used experimental working memory tasks.