The study sought to identify the cognitive skills underpinning learning success, so children were tested for IQ and so-called "executive functions", a set of cognitive processes that people use to control their thoughts and actions, including how they remember information, control their emotions and shift between thoughts.
The study was conducted in Brazil on 106 children between 6 and 8 from a range of social backgrounds, with half living under the official poverty line. Similar studies have been conducted in the English-speaking world, so it was interesting to see that the results were similar in this highly-unequal, Portuguese-speaking society.
The results found that a child's working memory skills, their ability to hold and work with information in mind, predicted success in all aspects of learning, regardless of IQ; moreover, most children identified by their teachers as "poor readers" struggled with their working memory.
Dr. Pascale Engel de Abreu, Associate Professor at the University of Luxembourg said that their findings found the importance of early screening and intervention, especially in the context of poverty.
She further explained that poor literacy, low academic achievement and living in poverty created a mutually reinforcing cycle and there could be a chance to break this by early identification of children with working memory problems and by helping them to acquire the mental tools which would enable them to learn.
The study is published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Psychology.