Cognitive modeling studies in adults have established that visual working memory (WM) capacity depends on the representational precision, as well as its variability from moment to moment. By contrast, visuospatial WM performance in children has been typically indexed by response accuracy—a binary measure that provides less information about precision with which items are stored. Here, we aimed at identifying whether and how children’s WM performance depends on the spatial precision and its variability over time in real-world contexts. Using smartphones, 110 Grade 3 and Grade 4 students performed a spatial WM updating task three times a day in school and at home for four weeks. Measures of spatial precision (i.e., Euclidean distance between presented and reported location) were used for hierarchical modeling to estimate variability of spatial precision across different time scales. Results demonstrated considerable within-person variability in spatial precision across items within trials, from trial to trial and from occasion to occasion within days and from day to day. In particular, item-to-item variability was systematically increased with memory load and lowered with higher grade. Further, children with higher precision variability across items scored lower in measures of fluid intelligence. These findings emphasize the important role of transient changes in spatial precision for the development of WM.
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