Temple Infant & Child Laboratory | Memory Research
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Memory Research

Memory Overview


Memory appears to show a lot of change over the course of early childhood. In our research, we seek to tease apart when children develop particular memory-related abilities.


In one study, we have focused on the role of spatial context (i.e. where something happened) in memory for events. In other words, can children use information about where they are to help them remember things? We found that we start to see episodic memory for object-to-object associations in 20 month olds. By age 3, children can even use contextual cues for memory, and their ability to use the cues increases until it reaches maturity at age 5. For more details, see the linked paper below!


PAPER: Koski, J., Olson, I. R. & Newcombe, N.S. (2013). Tracking the eyes to see what children remember. Memory, 21, 396-407.


We have also studied how children bind items in memory, such as a group of objects. This ability may be the basis for forming complex, autobiographical memories and using knowledge flexibly in new situations. Other studies using eye-tracking and verb measures have had mixed results regarding when children develop this ability, so in our study, we tracked children’s eye fixations and asked them to verbally respond during the task. We showed children a series of faces that were matched with scenes in test trials, we asked them to identify the correctly matched faces, finding that children do look at the correct target, but only after they have verbally identified it. In other words, behavioural data is key to our understanding of this type of memory in children. For more details, see the linked paper below!


PRESENTATION: Newcombe, N.S., Balcomb, F., Ferrera, K.J., Hansen, M., & Koski, J. (2013). The Emergence of Episodic Memory Between 18 Months and Five Years. Symposium conducted at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research on Child Development, Seattle, WA.


We are also studying pattern separation, or the ability to distinguish between two similar events, in young children. In a current study, we are looking at how children come to remember similar events as distinct. For example, did you see a yellow pair of sunglasses or a green pair of sunglasses? We are interested in how this ability relates to the development of episodic memory.


In a recent study, 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 the linked paper below:


PAPER: Ngo, C., Newcombe, N. S., & Olson, I. R. (in press). The ontogeny of relational memory and pattern separation. Developmental Science.