MCS – Age 11 – CANTAB Spatial Working Memory Task

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The Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) assessed their cohort members (CMs) during the study’s age 11 sweep using the Spatial Working Memory Task from the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery (CANTAB).

Details on this measure and the data collected from the CMs are outlined in the table below.


Domain:Memory (holding and manipulating information)
Measures:The test measures Spatial Working Memory, which requires retention and manipulation of visuospatial information. It has notable executive function demands and provides a measure of strategy as well as working memory errors. The test is recommended to assess cognitive function in: Alzheimer's disease, autism spectrum disorder, depression and affective disorders, Down's syndrome, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia, stroke and cerebrovascular disease, and traumatic brain injury.
CHC:Gsm (Short-Term memory)
Administrative method:Self-completion on CAPI tablet; using the CANTAB eclipse software which was integrated into the CAPI interview.
Procedure:The test begins with a number of coloured squares (boxes) shown on the screen. The aim of this test is that by selecting the boxes and using a process of elimination, the participant should find one yellow 'token' in each of a number of boxes and use them to fill up an empty column on the right-hand side of the screen. Depending on the difficulty level used for this test, the number of boxes can be gradually increased until a maximum of 12 boxes are shown for the participants to search. The colour and position of the boxes used are changed from trial to trial to discourage the use of stereotyped search strategies.
Duration: max 18 minutes
Link to questionnaire:Documentation not available.
For some additional detail, see: https://www.cambridgecognition.com/cantab/cognitive-tests/memory/spatial-working-memory-swm/ (opens in new tab)
Scoring:Key outcomes of the test are the total errors, time taken until last response and strategy.
Raw data and procedures / algorithms for deriving the summary scores are unavailable.
Item-level variable(s):SWMTTIME - SWMWE8BX
Total score/derived variable(s):Key item-level variable(s):
SWMTE8BX (Total errors on 4,6 and 8 box trials)
SWMMTTLR (Mean time to last response)
SWMSTRAT (Overall degree to which searches employ sequential heuristic)
Age of participant (months):Mean = 134, SD = 3.95, Range = 122 - 148
Descriptives:SWMTE8BX SWMMTTLRSWMSTRAT
(Total errors on 4,6 and 8 box trials)(Mean time to last response)(Strategy)
N12,75712,63712,757
Range0 - 17310591 - 1530370 - 48
Mean35.7128922.0734.32
SD18.766309.035.94
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Other sweep and/or cohort:None
Source:Cambridge Cognition. CANTAB (Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery) - Cognitive Assessment Software. Available at: www.cambridgecognition.com/products/cognitive-research/
Technical resources:Atkinson, M. (2015). Millennium Cohort Study-Interpreting the CANTAB Cognitive Measures. London, UK: Centre for Longitudinal Studies, Institute of Education, University of London.
Hansen K, ed. (2012). Millennium Cohort Study First, Second, Third and Fourth Surveys: A Guide to the Datasets. 7th ed. London, UK: Centre for Longitudinal Studies, Institute of Education, University of London.
Ipsos MORI. (2013). Millennium Cohort Study Fifth Sweep (MCS5) Age 11 Main Stage: Household and Main/Partner Questionnaire. London: Ipsos MORI.
Reference examples:Brown, M & Sullivan, A. (2014). Cognitive Development. In Platt, L (ed), Millennium Cohort Study: Initial findings from the Age 11 survey. London: Centre for Longitudinal Studies.
Fitzpatrick, A., Carter, J., & Quigley, M. A. (2016). Association of gestational age with verbal ability and spatial working memory at age 11. Pediatrics, e20160578.
Flouri, E., Papachristou, E., & Midouhas, E. (2018). The role of neighbourhood greenspace in children's spatial working memory. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 89, 359-373.

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This page is part of CLOSER’s ‘A guide to the cognitive measures in five British birth cohort studies’.