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    Memory Development in Infants (3043 words)

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    Young children’s behavior demonstrates their capability to remember long before they can use language. To assess different types of memory at these young ages, researchers have developed non-verbal measures and present evidence that these measures behave like their primarily verbal counterparts that are used in older children (Rose, et al., 2011). The research that’s emerged over the last several decades has contributed to the reconsideration of the cognitive competencies of infants, a continuation of development in the operation of basic memory systems and has provided a foundation for infantile amnesia (Haden, et al.; 2010). The development of memory infancy has many benefits, as it helps to show how memory develops over time. This knowledge can also be applied to different settings, for example an educational setting, where the more a teacher understands memory development of children the more they can use this information to guide children’s learning therefore giving them the best possible learning outcomes.

    Most theorists agree that memory refers to a hypothetical collection of attributes that represent the stimuli the subject noticed at the time of original encoding (Hayne & Rovee-Collier, 1995). We are able to retrieve this information when we re-encounter stimuli that match those of the original representation. New information that we gather through these mechanisms that drive learning and development help influence how we perceive, interpret, and interact with our environments. For many years, it was thought that preverbal infants were incapable of retention for longer than a few seconds or minutes. The ability to remember things long term were thought to not emerge until late in their first year of life. Recently, there have been many studies that have proven that infants can retain information on events they have participated in for weeks or months.

    The working memory is an important part in the process in human cognition. It represents the small amount of information that can be held in the mind and used in different processes, such as using mental imagery to rotate a puzzle to see which pieces fit together, remembering the first part of a long sentence, or remembering when mom has left the room (Cowan, 2016). Hermann Ebbinghaus is credited with introducing the scientific study of memory. To test his own memory, he created 2300 nonsense syllables that contained two consonants separated by a vowel (Hermann Ebbinghaus). He created these nonsense syllables because they were free of any previously learned associations. Ebbinghaus studied different lists and then he would determine how many he could remember after a certain amount of time. He found that things that were unimportant are more difficult to memorize than things of importance and that we are able to learn more when we do it over a long period of time. We are more likely to forget information if we try and remember everything at once. His findings were able to guide future researchers on how our memory works.

    There is some evidence from newborn preference studies to support the hypothesis that infants recognize and remember human voices and language to which they are exposed. For example, newborns have been shown to prefer their mother’s voice over that of a female stranger. Research on visual recognition shows that 3-day-old infants can distinguish their mother’s voice (Kisilevsky, et al., 2009). Barbara Kisilevsky (2009), a professor at Queens University, and her colleagues, tested forty mother-fetal pairs at 33-41 weeks’ gestation from the prenatal clinics at a community teaching hospital in Southern Ontario. The researchers asked each woman about testing her infant’s voice-recognition ability, while she was still pregnant. A two-minute Canadian English speech stimulus was created by each mother reading the story of Bambi. The voice recording of the mother and a random woman were played to the fetus. The fetuses showed an increasing heart rate to their mother’s voice but showed no response to the random women’s voice reading the same story (Kisilevsky, et al., 2009).

    An infants’ ability to learn from their mothers’ speech, even before birth, is proof to how sensitive infants are to their auditory environment. “This process of learning from auditory statistics continues during the first postnatal year as infants discover the phonetic categories and word boundaries of their native language” (Kidd, Piantadosi, & Aslin, 2014 p.1796). Infants are able to achieve this by gathering acoustic input from the natural environment, where myriad novel sounds and sound sequences unfold over time (Kidd, Piantadosi, & Aslin, 2014). Someone with an unlimited information-processing capacity could encode all available auditor as they hear it but for an infant, they possess limited cognitive resources making it harder for them to do this. This means an infant’s learning is limited by constraints such as the temporal rate at which they can accesses consecutive inputs. They are only able to attend to a subset of available data at a time.

    Another study done by Carolyn Rovee-Collier (1995) is a renowned expert whose studies of infant learning and memory have had a major impact on the understanding of cognitive processes during early development. Rovee-Collier is acknowledged as the creator of infant long-term memory research and as an innovator in the scientific quest to understand how early experience affects behavior later in life. Her research help developed new approaches in learning and memory for infants. In one test she conducted she discovered mobile conjugate reinforcement, where an ankle ribbon strung to a crib mobile enables preverbal infants to learn that kicking moves it. Varying the details on the mobile and the test delay allowed her to test for how long and in what conditions infants can recognize the event.

    In the previously mentioned test, Rovee-Collier (1995) and her colleagues designed a nonverbal measure to assess infant memory. In this study, twenty infants were tested within their home cribs at the time of day when they were the most alert. During the experiment, infants were trained and tested with one of two mobiles. Each mobile was made of five brightly detailed wooden figures suspended on white cord from the ends and middle of a plastic cross bar (Hayne & Rovee-Collier, 1995). The training took place during two consecutive 15-minute sessions that were separated by 24 hours. Each 15-minute session started with a 3-minute nonreinforcement phase, then a 9-minute reinforcement phase, and lastly a 3-minute nonreinforcement phase. During reinforcement periods, one end of a white ribbon was secured to the mobile suspension bar, and the other end was tied to the infant’s ankle. When the infant moved its foot, it made the mobile move as well, this is known as mobile conjugate reinforcement (Hayne & Rovee-Collier, 1995). During nonreinforcement, the ribbon was moved to the empty stand on the crib rail, this made the mobile still in full view but unable to move when the infant kicked. There were three reminder groups and one no-reminder group. The reminder groups received a 3-minute reminder treatment 24 hour prior to the 14-day long-term retention test. Infants were able to tell researchers whether or not they recognize the test mobile, they say yes by kicking at a higher rate than their individual baseline; if they do not recognize the test mobile they do not kick.

    “The results demonstrated that only the moving training mobile alleviated forgetting after the 2-week retention interval; forgetting was not alleviated by exposure to the stationary training mobile or to the mobile stands and ribbon alone” (Hayne & Rovee-Collier, 1995). This shows the training mobile during the reminder treatment is necessary in the alleviation of forgetting.

    For many years, the role of an environmental stimuli has been ignored in research on stimulus control. Today, the effects of the environment play a vital role in theory and research on learning and memory. Limited attention has focused on the role of context in studies with infants due to the assumption that infants’ brains are too immature to store information about their environment surroundings in which they learn (Adler, Gerhardstein, & Rovee-Collier, 1998). Researchers have used a number of different measures to find that infants can selectively attend to one of two simultaneously presented stimuli. These studies may suggest a sensitivity to the properties of voices, they also can be seen as examples of a more general ability to discriminate between two stimuli. Their attention to one stimulus is not necessarily disrupted by the presence of another. Renee Baillargeon (1998), a researcher on child development, suggested that young infants use selective attention in the world and this influences their encoding and retention. Recognition, the ability to judge an object that has been previously seen, is tested in infancy with a visual paired-comparison paradigm, which helps exploit an infant’s attraction to new things.

    Traditional models of learning assume that an association can be formed between cues that are physically present. Researchers have found the 6-month-old infants are able to form an association between the representation of two objects that are not physically present and have never occurred together (Cuevas, et al., 2006). Infants are able to remember these associations for up to two weeks, when they are using it to solve a new task. This finding shows that there is a possibility that in the normal course of day to day life, infants might be able to form numerous associations between the representations of objects from their memory and events that aren’t there. To prove this researchers exposed 6-month-old infants to two hand puppets, A and B, to establish an association between them for 1 hour a day for 7 consecutive days (Phase 1). There was a control group that was pre-exposed to the puppets equally long but not paired together and at different times throughout the day. In phase 2, an adult modeled the actions of one of the puppets. In phase 3, the infants were tested with the other puppet to see what they would do. They had found that infants who saw these puppets together associated them and later on started to imitate the actions of one puppet that were modeled on the other. Also, infants who saw the puppets for the same amount of time but unpaired, did not imitate their actions. This shows that relatively long retention by very young infants is not unique to operant conditioning.

    Another study conducted by Susan A. Rose, Judith F. Feldman, Jeffery J. Jankowski, and Ronan Van Rossem (2011), they created a study using structural equation modeling (SEM), to examine whether popular characterizations of the structure of adult memory, including the two-process theory of recognition, are relevant in the infant and toddler years. Researchers now have nonverbal tasks that asses recognition, recall, and short-term memory. Deficits in recognition and recall are frequently found in children who are born prematurely, mainly during the school-years and adolescence (Rose, et al.; 2011).

    In the previously mentioned study, participants were 203 full-term and preterm infants who were enrolled in a longitudinal study of cognitive development and seen three times at twelve months, and then again at 24 and 36 months. The tasks performed assessed three types of memory: recognition (immediate and delayed), recall, and memory span. Immediate recognition was assessed by familiarizing children with a stimulus and then tested for recognition by pairing the familiar object with something new. To measure delayed recognition, children were initially familiarized with three objects in a certain sequence, and then, after a delay, given a series of tests where each familiar object was paired with a new object. Recall memory was assessed by having children watch an adult demonstrate a new sequence of actions with a set of objects. The children were then tasked to manipulated and repeat the actions they saw. The researchers were able to assess short-term memory with a span task where spans of one, two, three, and four items were presented at 12 and 24 months. Results showed using SEM to examine the structure of memory in infants, toddlers and young children, that memory was multi-factorial and that short-term and long-term memory were distinct (Rose, et al.; 2011). The findings reveal similarity between the structure and theoretical foundations of infant and adult memory.

    Very few adults can remember events that occurred before the age of three or four years old, which is known as infantile amnesia (Haden, et al.; 2010). For many years, this was believed to be true due to the poor memory ability of immature organisms, but evidence shows that an infant’s memory can last and that four-year-olds can recall events that occurred before the age of two and a half. Being able to remember a particular episode requires that an individual be able to specify the time and place than an event took place, which is known as contextual information (Rovee-Collier, 2006). Contextual information is quite fragile and can be lost if the memory has been reactivated before. Most of our memories from early childhood have more than likely been modified or updated numerous times. “In addition, even if the memory has not been reactivated before, it is susceptible to modification if its initial reactivation occurs after a long delay- and the longer the delay the stronger the effect” (Rovee-Collier 2006 p128). This shows that when an infant encounter a different context right after the memory has been reactivated, the new context is substituted for the old one in the memory. This leaves the original context to no longer be identified at any age.

    The emotional content of memories and their distinctiveness are normally the reason for the existence of some experiences in memory past the period of life eventually hidden by childhood amnesia (Morris, Baker-Ward, & Bauer, 2010). An explanation of this come from the endurance of memories of highly stressful events one might experience from preschool into later childhood. In an investigation of 136 6- to 19-year-olds earliest memories found that the majority of memories were everyday experiences and had nothing unique about them. One of these earliest memories was a child’s report of looking at a dandelion growing out of a crack in the pavement (Morris, Baker-Ward, & Bauer, 2010). This shows that memories that survive early childhood are of limited personal significance as well as neutral in emotional content.

    Our working memory is a vital cognitive skill that underlies a broad range of behaviors. Our cognitive function causes a wide range of behaviors over one’s development, including everyday activities such as following multi step instructions, keeping track of a referent to understand a pronoun, or learning to follow the rules of a game (Simmering, 2016). Working memory is important in a child’s social development as the ability to process social information, which is thought to be dependent on working memory. The processing of social information is important for the development of a child’s social cognition and behavior (Wilde, Koot, & Lier, 2016). It is thought to believe that a child with a lower working memory has more trouble knowing how to behave properly in social situations. This can be a big deal for children transitioning from preschool to kindergarten. During this transition their social world widens with building different relationships with teachers and other children their age. Studies show low working memory performance is associated with peer rejection. Stressful social encounters can make children feel less safe and secure at school, if a child is not able to overcome this they are more likely to give up. According to Roy Baumeister, a social psychologist, humans are programmed to form positive relationships, which aid in a child’s learning and cognitive development. Not having these positive relationships can lead to troubles in responding to certain tasks that require cognitive functioning.

    Being able to remember past experiences is important for human growth. Previously, it was believed infants were not able to believe things from their childhood. The use of different approaches helped researchers find that this is not true. Knowing that infants are able to remember more than we think helps us know how to guide a child as they grow older.


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