Temple Infant & Child Laboratory | Memory Research
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Memory Research

Episodic Memory Overview


Episodic memory is a type of memory that allows us to remember specific events in the past, such as high school graduation and dinner with a friend last week. This type of memory appears to show of a lot of important changes over the course of early childhood. In our research, we seek to characterize the developmental nature of episodic memory in childhood by teasing apart the building blocks that make up this complex capacity.

The Collection Game

We are examining how children’s memory capacities develop. Children link related experiences to make novel inferences and store general knowledge. They also form memories for specific instances and events. Both kinds of memory play crucial roles in the development of an adaptive memory system. We aim to chart their development profiles from early to middle childhood. Children will first view child-friendly images of characters with different backgrounds and objects. We will then ask about their memories for the general ideas and the specifics of the images.



Eligibility criteria include: ages from 3 to 8 years, normal or corrected-to-normal corrected vision, native English speakers.

Experiment information: 1 one-hour session administered via Zoom. An optional greet-and-meet between the parent and the experimenter can be scheduled prior to the experiment session.


If you and your child are interested in participating in this research, please contact our research team member Rebecca Adler (rebecca.adler@temple.edu).



Animated Adventures

Memory replay is a phenomenon whereby the neural activity patterns that were present in the brain during wakeful learning events is “replayed” in the brain during rest. This phenomenon has been established in non-human animals, and cutting edge work is being done to establish the presence of this phenomenon in humans using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). We want to know if children’s memory replay is similar to that of adults, and plan to investigate this in an fMRI study in the future. We recently developed our computer task for children to do inside the MRI machine, and we are currently collecting pilot data for this behavioral portion of our study. We need your help to make sure our task is the best it can be! We want to know what your child remembers after watching videos we created featuring popular animated characters taking different things with them to different places.

If your child is 4-6 years old and is interested in participating in our study, please follow this link: https://clatemple.az1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_6KGbDRIceyPaC0J.

Recent Work


1. Sleep-Filled Delay and Memory

Children sleep a great deal more than adults, and while we know this is critical to children’s physical growth and development, we hoped to uncover whether there are benefits of sleep to memory consolidation in young children. This study investigated how well children can remember events they experience, especially when those events are very similar to one another and might be easily confused. We created animations for children to watch that mimics how they would encounter events in real life, and then asked which events children could correctly recall–both immediately after watching the animations in the lab, and then again, the following day at home. We found that children’s memories were best immediately after learning, that children were better at remembering events if they were more distinct from one another, and that there was an improvement in overall memory performance between ages 4 and 6. A publication on this project is forthcoming.


2. Pattern Completion

Episodic memory binds together the diverse elements of an event into a coherent representation. This coherence allows for the reconstruction of different aspects of an experience when triggered by a cue related to a past event—a process of pattern completion. Such holistic recollection is evident in young adults, as shown by dependency in the retrieval success for various associations from the same event. In addition, episodic memory shows clear quantitative increases during early childhood. However, the ontogeny of holistic recollection is uncharted. Using dependency analyses, we found that 4-year-olds, 6-year-olds and young adults all retrieve complex events in a holistic manner, i.e., retrieval accuracy for one aspect of an event predicted accuracy for other aspects of the same event. However, the degree of holistic retrieval increased from age 4 to adulthood. Thus, extended refinement of multi-way binding may be one aspect of episodic memory development.


Ngo, C. T., Horner, A. J., Newcombe, N. S., & Olson, I. R. (in press). Development of holistic episodic recollection. Psychological Science.


3. Pattern Separation



In two experiments, we examined the development of episodic memory – memory for specific events that happened in the past – in 4-year-old and 6-year-old children. We focused on two important aspects of episodic memory: (1) relational memory – how well children are able to remember multiple things that co-occur in specific spatiotemporal contexts; (2) pattern separation – how well children are able to discriminate between similar memories from each other. We found significant improvements in both relational memory and pattern separation between the ages of 4 and 6. Interestingly, 6-year-olds’ performances did not differ from those of adults. Furthermore, performances on relational memory and pattern separation did not relate to each other for any age group. These findings suggest that while relational memory and pattern separation follow a similar developmental profile, they may play distinct roles in episodic memory development. For more details, see linked papers below:


Ngo, C. T., Newcombe, N. S., & Olson, I. R. (2017). The ontogeny of relational memory and pattern separation. Developmental Science, 21(2), 10.1111/desc.12556.


Ngo, C. T.*, Lin, Y.*, Newcombe, N. S., & Olson, I. R. (in press). Building up and wearing down episodic memory: Mnemonic discrimination and relational binding. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

In another study, we asked whether young children (aged 4-5) could prioritize encoding items with high specificity in circumstances in which the details of past experiences would be advantageous for subsequent remembering. We found that motivating children to encode items with high specificity using a gain-loss framing indeed boosted preschoolers’ mnemonic discrimination. However, motivation did not abolish the robust age-related differences between preschoolers and their older counterparts (aged 6-8). Evidence from this research suggests that there is a degree of malleability in mnemonic discrimination in preschoolers, but the persistent age-related improvements are likely accounted for in part by neurobiological maturation of regions that instantiate pattern separation.


Ngo, C. T., Newcombe, N. S., & Olson, I. R. (in press). Gain-loss framing enhances mnemonic discrimination in preschoolers. Child Development.



4. Relational Binding


Remembering a specific past event requires the ability to link different elements of the events together, such as the people we meet, the objects we encounter, and where the events take place. This ability may be the basis for forming complex autobiographical memories and using knowledge flexibly in new situations. Given the central role of binding in episodic memory, we have studied children’s abilities to bind items in memory, such as grouping objects, or the linkage between a person, an object, and the surround context. In general, children younger than 4 have difficulty with binding, which may contribute to their overall poor episodic memory. However, children’s ability to form relational or associative memories via binding seems to improve markedly during childhood.


In one study, we examined the development of episodic memory during a specific context. Children were shown different rooms, each of which had 4 boxes. Both of the rooms had the same set of boxes but differed in their organization. In each room, children watched an experimenter hide a toy under one of the 4 boxes. The location of the toy differed between the rooms. Later on, children were asked to retrieve the toy in each room, which required them to remember which toy was hidden in which location.

20-month-olds were able to associate a toy with the box that it was hidden underneath, which provides evidence that toddlers can bind objects with other objects. By age 3, children can begin to bind object-object association to a specific context, and this ability increases until age 5. For more details, see the linked paper below:


Newcombe, N. S., Balcomb, F., Ferrara, K., Hansen, M., & Koski, J. (2014). Two rooms, two representations? Episodic-like memory in toddlers and preschoolers. Developmental Science, 17(5), 743-756.


In two recent studies, we tested binding of object-object association to a specific spatial context using dynamic animations in 4- and 6-year-old children. Four-year-old children performed worse than 6-year-old children, whereas 6-year-olds were comparable to young adults. For more details, see the linked paper


Ngo, C. T.*, Lin, Y.*, Newcombe, N. S., & Olson, I. R. (in press). Building up and wearing down episodic memory: Mnemonic discrimination and relational binding. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.