Temple Infant & Child Laboratory | Memory Research
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Memory Research

Overview: Memory for Events


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.

Ongoing Research

Note: All in-person research will follow Temple University’s current procedures and policies for protection against COVID-19. Review Temple’s COVID-19 safety website HERE.

Learning and Lemurs


Ages: 4 – 7 years


Duration: 1.5 hours, including breaks and snacks


Location: Philadelphia (Main) or Ambler campus


How do kids understand and remember events? To find out, we’re recruiting typically developing children ages 4-7 who have not seen the Netflix television series All Hail King Julien. Your child will watch one episode of the animated television show All Hail King Julien about the lemur from Madagascar, play some games on the computer, and answer some questions about the episode they watched. For this study, you and your child will be compensated with a $40 gift card, as well as a sticker or small toy. 




Home Sweet Home


Ages: 3 – 8 years


Duration: 1 hour, including breaks and snacks


Location: Philadelphia (Main) or Ambler campus



How do children apply their learning to new situations? To find out, we’re recruiting typically developing children ages 3 – 8 for the Home Sweet Home Study. Children will play a fun computer game where they will be asked to learn where different animals live in an imaginary land. You and your child will be compensated with a gift card and your child will get to pick out a toy or sticker!




Temple Tour


Ages: 8 – 13 years

Duration: 3 hours long, including time for breaks for lunch, snacks, and TV.

Location: Philadelphia (Main) campus 



How do children learn and remember new events and environments? To find out, we’re recruiting typically developing children ages 8 – 13 for the Temple Tour study. They will learn interesting facts about animals, objects, books, and movies, and then they will answer questions about their experience. If your child participates, they will receive a $50 Target gift card for completing the full behavioral and MRI scan session, and $25 for the behavioral session alone (includes gas reimbursement) as well as a small toy as a token of our appreciation. Depending on current conditions, your child will wear gloves when going on the tour to take appropriate precautions in light of COVID-19. 




Marvelous Moments


Ages: 4 or 6 years

Duration: 1.5 – 2 hours, including breaks and snacks

Location: Philadelphia (Main) and/or Ambler campuses


How do children learn to remember, and what does that look like in the developing brain? To find out, we are recruiting 4- and 6-year olds to follow over 2 years of their life as they develop and change. At 4, 5, and 6 years, or at 6, 7, and 8 years, your child will make a visit to our lab each year. Sessions will include your child watching cartoons, talking about things they’ve done recently, playing memory games, and receiving an MRI scan. You and your child will be compensated with a $50 gift card and your child will also receive toys or stickers as well as a picture of their brain! 

For more information about MRI, see our Neuroimaging tab.

Past Work


1. Generalized vs. Specific Memory Across Development

Semantic memory, which is memory for general knowledge of ideas and concepts, includes processes that allow us to apply this knowledge to new situations (called “generalization”). Episodic memory, on the other hand, helps us remember specific details from individual events by glueing together their pieces, and relies on a process called “pattern separation” to keep similar memories separate. These two memory systems complement each other and support different memory goals, but how much they rely on each other is not clear. Additionally, no current models consider that generalization develops years before episodic memory. In this study, we asked two questions about generalized and specific memory during early childhood: first, does fast generalization depend on remembering specific past memories? Second, does the strength or nature of this dependency change across development? We found that how generalization and episodic memory rely on each other varies across development: successful generalization in adults, but not in children, depended on their memory for contexts. For more information, see the linked paper below.


Ngo, C. T., Benear, S. L., Popal, H., Olson, I. R., & Newcombe, N. S. (2021). Contingency of semantic generalization on episodic specificity varies across development. Current Biology.


2. Memory After a Delay

Different memories from our everyday lives often share similar elements, i.e. I went to the same beach with my family on spring break and on summer break. Are children able to distinguish between such memories, and how does the time since the event happened affect their memory? This study investigated how well children can remember events they experience right away and after a delay, especially when those events are very similar to one another and might be easily confused. We created animations for children to watch that mimic 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 6-year-old children performed better than 4-year-old children, and that both groups of children found the events that had more similar elements between them more difficult to recall. Interestingly, although errors increased after a delay, the delay appeared to reduce errors for the events with the most shared elements for the 4-year-old children. This suggests that young children whose memory systems are still developing might benefit from a delay between learning and being tested when the items to be remembered are very similar.


Benear, S.L., Ngo, C.T., Olson, I.R., & Newcombe, N.S. (2021). Understanding relational binding in early childhood: Interacting effects of overlap and delay. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.


3. Filling In the Whole Memory Picture

Episodic memory ties together the different aspects that make up events to make one whole mental picture, just like completing a puzzle by putting together all the pieces. . This makes it so that remembering one part of a past event can trigger memory for the other individual pieces of that experience, which is called  “pattern completion”. Research shows that this “holistic” remembering exists in young adults, because remembering one puzzle piece depends on remembering another puzzle piece  from the same event! Episodic memory also shows clear improvements during early childhood. However, the development  of “holistic” remembering needs more research. In our work, , we found that 4-year-olds, 6-year-olds and young adults all remember complex events in a “holistic” manner: remembering one element of an event predicted remembering other parts of the same event!  “Holistic” remembering also increased from age 4 to adulthood. In summary, honing the skill of filling in the whole memory picture may be an important part of how we learn to remember events. 


Ngo, C. T., Horner, A. J., Newcombe, N. S., & Olson, I. R. (2019). Development of holistic episodic recollection. Psychological science30(12), 1696-1706.


4. Keeping Similar Memories Separate



In two experiments, we looked at 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 parts of episodic memory: (1) relational memory – how well children  remember different elements of memory such as place, time, and the objects present; (2) pattern separation – how well children keep similar memories separate.. We found that both relational memory and pattern separation improved from ages 4 to 6. Interestingly, 6-year-olds performed just like adults! Additionally, relational memory and pattern separation did not relate to each other for any age group. These results suggest that while relational memory and pattern separation develop in a similar way, they may play different roles in episodic memory development. For more details, see the 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. (2019). Building up and wearing down episodic memory: Mnemonic discrimination and relational binding. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General148(9), 1463.

In another study, we asked whether young children aged 4 – 5 could prioritize learning specific items when the details of those items would be important for later remembering.. Children learned specific items using a gain-loss framing in which certain items made a cartoon bird healthier (gain) and certain items made the same cartoon bird sicker (loss). This framing boosted preschoolers’ ability to keep similar memories separate! However, this motivation didn’t help preschoolers catch up to  their older counterparts (aged 6-8). This research suggests that there is flexibility in preschoolers’ ability to keep similar memories separate, but that age-related improvements are likely explained by development of brain regions that are important for this skill.


Ngo, C. T., Newcombe, N. S., & Olson, I. R. (2019). Gain‐Loss Framing Enhances Mnemonic Discrimination in Preschoolers. Child development90(5), 1569-1578.



5. Piecing Together the Details of Memory


Remembering a specific past event requires piecing together the details of memory, such as the people we met, the objects we found, and where the event took place. This ability may be the foundation for how we can remember rich events from our own lives (called “autobiographical memory) and how we can use knowledge easily in new situations. Because piecing together memory details is so important for episodic memory, we have studied children’s abilities to glue together items in memory, such as grouping similar objects, or making the connection between a person, an object, and the context. In general, children younger than 4 have difficulty with this skill, which may be why their overall episodic memory isn’t very good! However, children’s ability to create what we call “associative” memories by piecing together the details of memory seems to improve noticeably during childhood.


In one study, we looked at 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 were organized in different ways. In each room, children watched an experimenter hide a toy under one of the 4 boxes. The location of the toy was different for each room. Later on, children were asked to find the toy in each room, which required them to remember which toy was hidden in which place.

20-month-olds were able to associate a toy with the box that it was hidden under, which shows that toddlers can piece together  objects with other objects in their memory. By age 3, children can begin to match this object-object association to a specific context, and then 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 how 4- and 6-year old children could match object-object associations to a specific place using fun animations. Four-year-old children couldn’t do this as well as 6-year-old children, but 6-year-olds performed similar to young adults! For more details, see the linked paper.


Ngo, C. T.*, Lin, Y.*, Newcombe, N. S., & Olson, I. R. (2019). Building up and wearing down episodic memory: Mnemonic discrimination and relational binding. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General148(9), 1463.


Video: Getting Your First MRI at TUBRIC!

What is MRI?

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a noninvasive technique that uses magnetic fields and radio waves to take high-resolution pictures of the inside of your body. An MRI scan is different from a CT scan or X-ray in that it doesn’t use radiation to produce images!



Is having an MRI safe?

MRI is considered to be a safe, painless and noninvasive technique! During the scan, your child won’t be exposed to any harmful radiation. Since the MRI system uses a strong magnet, there are some important steps we take to keep everyone safe during the session, including asking questions to make sure there is no metal in or on your child.



What is it like to get an MRI?

The MRI scanner has a big tube in the middle with openings at both ends. Your child will lie down on a movable bed that slides into the tube. Our team will make sure they are comfortable with plenty of cushioning, and then will put a plastic helmet over their head to take the MRI pictures. After the bed slowly slides into the machine, a member of the research team will get set up in a neighboring room with an intercom so that they can talk to your child throughout the process, just like using walkie-talkies. They will also be given a squeeze ball so they can alert the researcher at any time that they need their attention. Then, the machine will take several pictures of your child’s brain, each of which will take a few minutes. MRI’s are very sensitive to motion, so your child will be asked to stay extra still during the session to help us take the best quality pictures. We’ll make sure to practice with them in a “mock scanner,” which doesn’t have a magnet, to help them get used to the process!

Because the MRI scanner will make all sorts of loud noises during the session, your child will be given earplugs and/or headphones to block out the noises. This is how they’ll know when the pictures are being taken!

When the scan is finished, a member of the research staff will help your child get up from the bed and let you both know if there is anything more to do for that session.



For more information, visit the Temple University Brain Imaging Center (TUBRIC) Participant Portal.

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