Studies of Mild Mental Retardation and Timed Performance

T. Nettelbeck, N. Brewer

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37 Citations (Scopus)


An information processing approach to the study of mental events provides a framework for examining the nature of individual differences in mental abilities, focusing upon cognitive events inferred to intervene between stimulus and response. The expectation has been that this approach may advance our understanding of mental retardation in terms of processes involving the selection, transformation, and retention of knowledge. In this article we discuss the assumptions underlying this approach, including problems associated with maintaining a distinction between structural and functional properties of an information processing system. Research reviewed includes studies of the effects on timed performance of various temporal and stimulus intensity factors, and of the manipulation of the relationshp between stimulus and response arrangements. Other areas of research reviewed include the application of Sternberg's additive factors procedure and studies of tachistoscopic recognition to the study of mild mental retardation. An attempt to measure both the speed of central processing and the influence of conceptual factors within the one experimental context is described. The general conclusion is that, while the rate of processing appears to be slower among mildly retarded persons, this may reflect important cognitive differences between retarded and nonretarded populations. Evidence derived from a diversity of theoretical positions leads to the conclusion that the performance of mildly retarded individuals is best understood in terms of a general attentional deficiency, reflecting poorly developed executive control processes that govern all aspects of information processing. This conclusion does not exclude the possibility of structural limitation, either specific or general. It is further suggested that differing emphases regarding mechanisms underlying the less efficient timed performance of retarded persons have been the consequences of differences in the experimental procedures used. Possible approaches to the clarification of the nature of various executive control processes and their relative contributions to the performance of retarded persons are discussed. Particular consideration is given to conceptual factors that influence performance, and the effects of systematic training and practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-106
Number of pages46
JournalInternational Review of Research in Mental Retardation
Publication statusPublished - 1981
Externally publishedYes


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