CHICAGO: Defects in working memory the brain's temporary storage bin may explain why one child cannot read her history book and another gets lost in algebra, new research suggests.

As many as 10% of school age children may suffer from poor working memory, British experts said in a report last week, yet the problem remains rarely identified.

"You can think of working memory as a pure measure of your child's potential," Tracey Alloway of Britain's Durham University said.

"Some psychologists consider working memory to be the new IQ because we find that working memory is the single most important predictor of learning," Alloway said.

Many children with poor working memory are considered lazy or dim. But Alloway said with early identification and memory training, many of these underachievers can improve.

Working memory allows people to hold and manipulate a few items in their minds, such as a phone number. Alloway compares working memory to a box. For adults, the basic box size is thought to be three to five items. People who have more on a mental grocery list are likely to forget something.

"Since there is this limit, it is important to put in the right thing. Irrelevant information will clutter up working memory," Nelson Cowan, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Missouri, said.

The question many researchers are struggling with is how to help people with this problem, which appears to be closely tied with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.