J Am Acad Audiol
DOI: 10.1055/s-0042-1754369
Research Article

Working Memory for Faces among Individuals with Congenital Deafness

1   Department of Psychology, Ariel University, Ariel, Israel
2   Department of Neurological Rehabilitation, Sheba Medical Center, Ramat-Gan, Israel
Maayon Ohayon
1   Department of Psychology, Ariel University, Ariel, Israel
› Author Affiliations


Background Studies examining face processing among individuals with congenital deafness show inconsistent results that are often accounted for by sign language skill. However, working memory for faces as an aspect of face processing has not yet been examined in congenital deafness.

Purpose To explore working memory for faces among individuals with congenital deafness who are skilled in sign language.

Research Design A quasi-experimental study of individuals with congenital deafness and a control group.

Study Sample Sixteen individuals with congenital deafness who are skilled in sign language and 18 participants with intact hearing, matched for age, and education.

Intervention The participants performed two conditions of the N-back test in ascending difficulty (i.e., 1-back and 2-back).

Data Collection and Analysis Levene's and Shapiro–Wilk tests were used to assess group homoscedasticity and normality, respectively. A two-way repeated measures analysis of variance was applied to compare the groups in response time and accuracy of the N-back test, as well as Pearson correlation between response time and accuracy, and sign language skill duration.

Results The congenital deafness group performed better than controls, as was found in the response time but not in the accuracy variables. However, an interaction effect showed that this pattern was significant for the 1-back but not for the 2-back condition in the response time but not the accuracy. Further, there was a marginal effect in response time but a significant one in accuracy showing the 2-back was performed worse than the 1-back. No significant correlation was found between response time and accuracy, and sign language skill duration.

Conclusions Face processing advantage associated with congenital deafness is dependent on cognitive load, but sign language duration does not affect this trend. In addition, response time and accuracy are not equally sensitive to performance differences in the N-back test.

Conflict of Interest

None declared.


Any mention of a product, service, or procedure in the Journal of the American Academy of Audiology does not constitute an endorsement of the product, service, or procedure by the American Academy of Audiology.

Publication History

Received: 07 September 2021

Accepted: 17 June 2022

Article published online:
29 November 2022

© 2022. American Academy of Audiology. This article is published by Thieme.

Thieme Medical Publishers, Inc.
333 Seventh Avenue, 18th Floor, New York, NY 10001, USA

  • References

  • 1 Braun A. The Speaker Identification Ability of Blind and Sighted Listeners: An Empirical Investigation. Fachmedien Wiesbaden: Springer VS;. 2016
  • 2 Dye MWG, Bavelier D. Attentional enhancements and deficits in deaf populations: an integrative review. Restor Neurol Neurosci 2010; 28 (02) 181-192
  • 3 Lopez-Crespo G, Daza MT, Méndez-Lopez M. Visual working memory in deaf children with diverse communication modes: improvement by differential outcomes. Res Dev Disabil 2012; 33: 362-368
  • 4 Megreya AM, Bindemann M. A visual processing advantage for young-adolescent deaf observers: evidence from face and object matching tasks. Sci Rep 2017; 7 (01) 1-7 DOI: 10.1038/srep41133.
  • 5 Pavani F, Bottari D. Visual abilities in individuals with profound deafness: a critical review.. In: Murray MM, Wallace MT, eds. The Neural Bases of Multisensory Processes. Boca Raton: Taylor & Francis, pp. 421–442 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1201/b11092-28
  • 6 Cardin V, Rudner M, De OliveiraRF, Su MT, Beese L, Woll B. et al. The organization of working memory networks is shaped by early sensory experience. Cereb Cortex 2018; 28 (10) 3540-3554
  • 7 Merabet LB, Pascual-Leone A. Neural reorganization following sensory loss: the opportunity of change. Nat Rev Neurosci 2010; 11 (01) 44-52 . Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nrn2758
  • 8 Mitchell TV, Letourneau SM, Maslin MCT. Behavioral and neural evidence of increased attention to the bottom half of the face in deaf signers. Restor Neurol Neurosci 2013; 31 (02) 125-139
  • 9 Bettger JG, Emmorey K, McCullough SH, Bellugi U, Mccullough SH. Enhanced facial discrimination: effects of experience with American sign language. J Deaf Stud Deaf Educ 1997; 2 (04) 223-233
  • 10 Emmorey K, Kosslyn SM, Bellugi U. Visual imagery and visual-spatial language: enhanced imagery abilities in deaf and hearing ASL signers. Cognition 1993; 46 (02) 139-181
  • 11 Lee K, Groesbeck E, Gwinn OS, Webster MA, Jiang F. Enhanced peripheral face processing in deaf individuals. J Percept Imaging 2021; 4: 1-7
  • 12 Sehyr ZS, Midgley KJ, Holcomb PJ, Emmorey K, Plaut DC, Behrmann M. Unique N170 signatures to words and faces in deaf ASL signers reflect experience-specific adaptations during early visual processing. Neuropsychologia 2020; 141: 107414 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2020.107414.
  • 13 Arnold P, Murray C. Memory for faces and objects by deaf and hearing signers and hearing nonsigners. J Psycholinguist Res 1998; 27 (04) 185-195
  • 14 Arnold P, Mills M. Memory for faces, shoes, and objects by deaf and hearing signers and hearing nonsigners. J Psycholinguist Res 2001; 30 (02) 185-195
  • 15 Keehner M, Atkinson J. Working memory and deafness: implications for cognitive development and functioning.. In: Pickering, S, ed. Working Memory and Education. San Diego: Academic Press; 2006:189–218 doi: DOI: 10.1016/B978-012554465-8/50009-0
  • 16 McCullough S, Emmorey K. Face processing by deaf ASL signers: evidence for expertise in distinguished local features. J Deaf Stud Deaf Educ 1997; 2 (04) 212-222
  • 17 Parasnis I, Samar VJ, Bettger JG, Sathe K. Does deafness lead to enhancement of visual spatial cognition in children? Negative evidence from deaf nonsigners. J Deaf Stud Deaf Educ 1996; 1 (02) 145-152
  • 18 Stoll C, Palluel-Germain R, Caldara R, Lao J, Dye MWG, Aptel F. et al. Face recognition is shaped by the use of sign language. J Deaf Stud Deaf Educ 2018; 23 (01) 62-70
  • 19 Benetti S, van Ackeren MJ, Rabini G, Zonca J, Foa V, Baruffaldi F. et al. Functional selectivity for face processing in the temporal voice area of early deaf individuals. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2017; 114 (31) E6437-E6446
  • 20 de Heering A, Aljuhanay A, Rossion B, Pascalis O. Early deafness increases the face inversion effect but does not modulate the composite face effect. Front Psychol 2012; 3: 1-10
  • 21 Baddeley A. Working memory: theories, models, and controversies. Annu Rev Psychol 2012; 63: 1-29 . Doi: http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev-psych-120710-100422
  • 22 Ding H, Qin W, Liang M, Ming D, Wan B, Li Q. et al. Cross-modal activation of auditory regions during visuo-spatial working memory in early deafness. Brain 2015; 138 (09) 2750-2765
  • 23 Heled E, Ohayon M. Visuospatial and tactile working memory in individuals with congenital deafness. J Deaf Stud Deaf Educ 2021; 26 (03) 314-321
  • 24 Rac-Lubashevsky R, Kessler Y. Dissociating working memory updating and automatic updating: the reference-back paradigm. J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn 2016; 42 (06) 951-969
  • 25 Kirchner WK. Age differences in short-term retention of rapidly changing information. J Exp Psychol 1958; 55: 352-358
  • 26 Jaeggi SM, Buschkuehl M, Perrig WJ, Meier B. The concurrent validity of the N-back task as a working memory measure. Memory 2010; 18 (04) 394-412
  • 27 Scheibel RS, Pearson DA, Faria LP, Kotrla KJ, Aylward J, Bachevalier J. et al. An fMRI study of executive functioning after severe diffuse TBI. Brain Inj 2003; 17 (11) 919-930
  • 28 Ding H, Ming D, Wan B, Li Q, Qin W, Yu C. Enhanced spontaneous functional connectivity of the superior temporal gyrus in early deafness. Sci Rep 2016; 6: 1-11 DOI: 10.1038/srep23239.
  • 29 Rudner M. Working memory for linguistic and non-linguistic manual gestures: evidence, theory, and application. Front Psychol 2018; 9: 1-13 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00679.
  • 30 Malaia E, Wilbur RB. Visual and linguistic components of short-term memory: Generalized Neural Model (GNM) for spoken and sign languages. Cortex 2018; 112: 69-79 . Doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2018.05.020
  • 31 Marschark M, Morrison C, Lukomski J, Borgna G, Convertino C. Are deaf students visual learners?. Learn Individ Differ 2013; 25: 156-162 . Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2013.02.006
  • 32 Moberly AC, Pisoni DB, Harris MS. Visual working memory span in adults with cochlear implants: some preliminary findings. World J Otorhinolaryngol Head Neck Surg 2017; 3 (04) 224-230
  • 33 Emmorey K, Giezen MR, Petrich JAF, Spurgeon E, O'Grady Farnady L. The relation between working memory and language comprehension in signers and speakers. Acta Psychol 2017; 177: 69-77
  • 34 Marschark M, Spencer LJ, Durkin A, Borgna G, Convertino C, Machmer E. et al. Understanding language, hearing status, and visual-spatial skills. J Deaf Stud Deaf Educ 2015; 20 (04) 310-330
  • 35 Colzato LS, Jongkees BJ, Sellaro R, Hommel B. Working memory reloaded: tyrosine repletes updating in the N-back task. Front Behav Neurosci 2013; 7: 1-5
  • 36 Gevins A, Ilan AB, Jiang A, Chan CS, Gelinas D, Smith ME. et al. A method to combine cognitive and neurophysiological assessments of the elderly. Dement Geriatr Cogn Disord 2011; 31 (01) 7-19
  • 37 Jacola LM, Willard VW, Ashford JM, Ogg RJ, Scoggins MA, Jones MM. et al. Clinical utility of the N-back task in functional neuroimaging studies of working memory. J Clin Exp Neuropsychol 2014; 36 (08) 875-886 . Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13803395.2014.953039
  • 38 León-Domínguez U, Martín-Rodríguez JF, León-Carrión J. Executive n-back tasks for the neuropsychological assessment of working memory. Behav Brain Res 2015; 292: 167-173 . Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2015.06.002
  • 39 Wang H, He W, Wu J, Zhang J, Jin Z, Li L. A coordinate-based meta-analysis of the n-back working memory paradigm using activation likelihood estimation. Brain Cogn 2019; 132: 1-12
  • 40 Yaple Z, Arsalidou M. N-back working memory task: meta-analysis of normative fMRI studies with children. Child Dev 2018; 89 (06) 2010-2022
  • 41 Bopp KL, Verhaeghen P. Aging and n-back performance: a meta-analysis. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci 2020; 75 (02) 229-240
  • 42 Chau SA, Herrmann N, Eizenman M, Chung J, Lanctôt KL. Exploring visual selective attention towards novel stimuli in Alzheimer's disease patients. Dement Geriatr Cogn Disord Extra 2015; 5 (03) 492-502
  • 43 Snyder HR, Miyake A, Hankin BL. Advancing understanding of executive function impairments and psychopathology: bridging the gap between clinical and cognitive approaches. Front Psychol 2015; 6: 328
  • 44 Lundqvist D, Flykt A, O¨hmann A. The Karolinska Directed Emotional Faces (KDEF), CD ROM from Department of Clinical Neuroscience. Stockholm, Sweden: Psychology Section, Karolinska Institute;: 1998
  • 45 Morgan CJ. Use of proper statistical techniques for research studies with small samples. Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol 2017; 313 (05) L873-L877
  • 46 Andin J, Holmer E, Schönström K, Rudner M. Working memory for signs with poor visual resolution: fMRI evidence of reorganization of auditory cortex in deaf signers. Cereb Cortex 2021; 31 (07) 3165-3176
  • 47 Costa SL, Genova HM, DeLuca J, Chiaravalloti ND. Information processing speed in multiple sclerosis: past, present, and future. Mult Scler 2017; 23 (06) 772-789
  • 48 Rudner M, Orfanidou E, Cardin V, Capek CM, Woll B, Rönnberg J. Preexisting semantic representation improves working memory performance in the visuospatial domain. Mem Cognit 2016; 44: 608-620
  • 49 Meule A. Reporting and interpreting working memory performance in n-back tasks. Front Psychol 2017; 8: 352 . Doi: https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00352