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Attention & Memory Development

As identified by Pashler (1995) one’s ‘attentional’ system is a coping mechanism that’s designed to interpret and process the volume of information that’s supplied to us via our ‘perceptual’ system. For example; ‘selective attention’ allows us to focus on the task at hand while filtering out other irrelevant stimuli. Knowing of this, Hagen & Stanovitch’s ‘paired-picture’ test was designed to focus a child’s attention on one aspect of the test. Namely, the Chicco Polly Highchair, Orionrepresentation of animals within each group of photos. Hagen et al results indicated that young children were capable of remembering the targeted picture, that is, the animal within each paired picture group.

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However, the experiment also indicated that ‘incidental learning’ had occurred as each child without intention was able to recall some of the non-relevant pictures within the test. Moreover, results by Ridderinkhof, Vander Molen, Band & Bashore (1997) had also revealed a correlation between age and incidental learning as 11-year-olds were found to be capable of filtering out incidental irrelevant information more effectively. According to Ruff & Lawson (1990), another important aspect of attentional development is ‘sustained attention.’

That is one’s ability to stay ‘ontrack’ with a particular problem over a period of time. Noticeably, this developmental skill is necessary when learning new things or when complex problems need to be solved. In addition, longitudinal studies by Ruff & Rothbart (1996) suggest that a child’s sustained attention can be quantitatively measured and therefore predicted between one to two years of age. More importantly, that it might be possible to
identify attention disorders in young children.

Memory Development Continued…..

Memory is fundamental when it comes to processing information. This is evident at an early developmental stage when infants interact and bond with their parents. With this in mind, the ability to ‘encode’ unique facial features allows the infant to ‘store’ and ‘recognise’ each parent from an early age. Moreover, as the child develops they will be able to ‘recall’ events or objects from previous experiences. Therefore, memory plays a critical role in one’s emotional and social development as the recollection of past environmental experiences can influence how we perceive our relationships with others. In addition, research in the field of infant memory development has revealed one obvious problem. That is, a child at a certain age is unable to vocalise whether or not they have recognised an object.

Developmental researchers, therefore, adopted a number of perceptual developmental techniques, namely, ‘habituation-dishabituation’ and ‘operant conditioning’ to overcome this obstacle. For example; a child is subjected to the same object or stimuli repeatedly until the child becomes disinterested or habituated with the stimuli. To test the infant’s memory new dis-habituated stimuli is introduced to the infant. If the infant is unable to recognise the new stimuli then the infant’s attention span will be quantitatively longer.

In addition, Rovee-Collier & Cueva’s (2008) infant ‘motor’ operant conditioning experiment is a classic example of how infants retain a memory. Here is a representation of the methodology used in their experiment. An infant was placed faced up within a cot, a ribbon was then attached to the infant’s foot and the mobile above. Rovee-Collier et al. would then manipulate the infant’s foot in such a way that it would represent a kicking movement. As a result, the infant was subjected to a positive visual stimulus, namely, the visual movement of the over-hanging mobile. Moreover, this behavioural pattern was repeated by them to ensure that ‘encoding’ had occurred.

Noticeably, the results indicated that the infant was able to recall the physical movements required to obtain a favourable outcome. In other words, that ‘operant-conditioning’ had taken place as the infant had been conditioned by positive reinforcement. However, according to Rovee-Collier et al. if the infant was removed from this environment for a duration of time it would result in the infant being unable to reproduce the same result. Knowing of this, ‘reactivation’ must occur in order to allow the infant to recall the required skill to manipulate the mobile above. Rovee-Collier et al. had, therefore, revealed a correlation between memory and operant conditioning.

More importantly, that age was also a factor in retaining a memory over a sustained period of time. This was evident when two-month-olds were capable of reproducing the kicking movement after three days. This concept was also reinforced by six-month-old infants as they were able to reproduce the same results after 21 days. It’s also an example of how ‘encoding specificity’ works as context often plays a role in the recollection of an object and one’s experiences. One other example of this might relate to the emotional and social impact of others around you when taking in new information.

Moreover, ‘deferred imitation’ by infants at a very early developmental stage can offer researchers like Melzoff (1988) an insight into recognition memory. Melzoff argued that prior observations by nine-month-old infants can be imitated 24 hours later. Furthermore, according to Bauer & Mandler (1992), a 14-month-old has the capacity to retain and repeat more complex behavioural patterns or sequences up to a week later. Knowing of this, research by Learmonth, Lamberth, & Rovee-Collier (2004) suggested that age is correlated with memory duration. With this in mind, a child can imitate behavioural patterns like blowing bubbles at an early age.

Childhood memory development

As children develop more complex durable memories are formed. In addition, in Cowan’s (1997) view, with age, a child’s duration of retention increases up to four times between the age of seven and early adulthood. There are also many ‘memory strategies’ or mechanisms like ‘general knowledge’ and ‘meta-memory’ that are influential in a child’s development at an early age. With this in mind, let’s look at these factors in more detail.


Consider the following situation, if a child was asked to recall a number of historical places in Tasmania, what kind of strategies would the child employ to remember them? Not surprisingly, in Flavell, Beach, & Chinsky’s (1966) view, a child would normally repeat or ‘rehears’ the list until it was remembered. Another strategy, according to Schlagmeuller & Schneider (2002) might be to ‘organise’ the list in alphabetical order or to associate an ‘elaborate’ mental image, in Kee & Gultentage’s (1994) opinion, with an iconic location. Noticeably, DeLoache & Todd (1988) suggested that five to six-year-olds are capable of deliberately implementing these ‘mnemonic strategies’ to recall something at a later point in time. However, as identified by Ritter, Kaprove, Fitch & Flavell (1973), the spontaneous implementation of these strategies is uncommon in three-year-olds unless prompted by an outside agency. Knowing of this, Coyle & Bjorkland (1997) associated age with the child’s ability to implement multiple strategies within a memory test. It also accounts for a child’s increased academic performance according to Coyle (2001).

Constructive memory, Expertise & Culture

As previously mentioned, the encoding and retrieval of information allow us as individuals to interpret an object, subject, or event. More importantly, that this cognitive mechanism also increases one’s general knowledge and perception of the world. With this in mind children, according to Greenhoot (2000) will condense, integrate and recall information within a story or body of text in general terms. As their ‘constructive memory’ in Brown, Smiley, Day Townsend & Lawton’s (1977) view is based on one’s general knowledge of past events. Moreover, as identified by Martin & Halverson (1983), Hoe & Davidson (2002) a child’s stereotypical conceptualisation of gender, old age and ethnic culture can influence the recollection of a passage of text. On average, memory development increases of age. However, research by Schneider, Gruber, Gold & Opwis (1993) demonstrated that children are capable of outperforming older individuals if they process a high degree of knowledge within a specific field.

For example; a study by Bedard & Chi (1992) found a correlation between gifted child chess players and their ability to remember complex patterns within a memory task test. Moreover, Schneider & Bjorkland (2000) argued that the implementation of ‘mnemonic’ strategies by child ‘experts’ will also increase their ability to process information. In addition, according to Medin, Ross, Atron, Burnett, & Blok (2002) knowledge, or one’s cultural experience is also correlated with memory as children within different societies will acquire information that is relevant to their cultural development. In other words, unlike industrial societies, societies that are based on hunting, a gathering will have an increased knowledge of animal and plant-ecology. With this in mind, Medin et al (2002) results indicated strengths and weaknesses in memory performance within different cultures.

Scripts & Meta-memory

Children, unlike adults, perform multiple familiar routines on a daily basis. These routines or behavioural patterns according to Nelson & Favush (2004) also form a ‘script’ for a particular task. For example; both birthday parties and bedtime routines adhere to a sequence of actions that make up a script. In Favush’s (1997) view, if these scripts are preserved and not violated by additional elements, then it’s easier for the child to remember. Conversely, in Davidson & Jergovic’s (1996) opinion, unique, bizarre and unexpected events or scripts can be a remembered. Noticeably, seven-year-olds within Ornstein, Shapiro, Club, Folmer, & Baker-ward’s (1997) research group were capable of distinguishing between well-known scripts and fictional events.

‘Meta-memory’ refers to one’s knowledge about memory, it also relates to our own memory. For example; remembering a few items on a small list is easier than recalling all the items on a longer list. Another example might be one’s ability to recollect a food list weeks after visiting them for the first time. With these two examples in mind, how much information is retained by a child? Kreutzer, Leonard, & Flavell’s (1975) straightforward simplistic approach was to ask the child. Their results indicated that thirty per cent of younger children, namely, five-year-olds were confident, even optimistic about recalling and memory. However, six-year-olds were found to be more realistic about their ability to recall information as they had acknowledged that they do forget somethings.

Knowing of this, Schneider & Pressky (1989) associated age with a child’s modest, realistic self-assessment of memory recollection. Moreover, according to Kreutzer et al (1975) approximately fifty per cent of children surveyed within a first-grade primary school had found the recollection of familiar items much easier to remember. In addition, Cavanaugh & Perlmutter (1982) suggested that there might be a correlation with a child’s knowledge about meta-memory and memory performance.

However, their results failed to produce a significant relationship between these two subjects. Further research by Schneider & Sodian (1988) found the opposite to be true, but only if the child’s knowledge was directly relevant to the memory task at hand. For example; four and six-year-old children were asked to remember ten objects within ten houses. Noticeably, each house was correlated with a picture of a person in a different occupational uniform. (Namely, policeman, doctor, plumber, fireman) More importantly, that some of the objects in question were related to one of these occupations (Like a syringe etc.) Participants within both research groups were also instructed on how important it was to associate each object with the appropriate person within each picture. Not surprisingly, children performed better within both groups as a result of being instructed. This research can also allow researchers to predict, on average, a child’s performance on any given memory task test.

Implicit memory development & Dynamic systems

As previously mentioned, ‘explicit memory’ relates to a child’s conscious ability to recall a memory of an object or event. “Impact or indirect memory” however refers to a memory of a previous experience and its ability to influence one’s behaviour on a nonconscious level. For example; a visual ‘repetition priming’ test by RoveeCollier, Hayne, & Colombo (2001) was designed to rest a child’s ability to retain and recall a known picture from a selection of fragmented portions of the original picture. The child was then asked to recognise the same picture from the other pictures. Research by Hayes & Hannessy (1996), Murphy, McKane, & Slee (2003) also found that one’s implicit priming, unlike explicit memory, does not increase with age as the cognitive process remains approximately the same over the course of one’s development. In addition, it also allows researchers in their view to identifying learning difficulty in children. Specific cognitive processes like concept formation, memory, problem-solving and attention have historically been researched on an individual level.

However, recent developments in the fields of engineering and mathematics have produced computer theoretical models on ‘dynamic systems.’ With this in mind, researchers like Thelen & Smith (1998), Smith & Breazel (2007) are able to explain the complexity and interaction between individual developmental domains. Namely, language, attention, perception, motor activity, memory and emotions. For instance, a study by Smith, Thelen, Titzer, & Melin (1999) is one example of how perception and one’s motor development might influence our understanding on how a child is unable to conceptualise the idea of a hidden object. As the ‘A-not-B’ error by six to 12-month-old infants has so far been attributed to a child’s concept of spatial orientation.

One’s core knowledge

As previously mentioned, information-processing has been associated with the many individual developmental domains and how these domains can allow an individual to perform a specific task. Moreover, how dynamic theoretical systems take into account the complexity of an integration of each domain. However, as identified by Baillargeon (2008), Spelke & Kinzler (2007), Wellman & Gelman (1998) ‘core knowledge’ refers to a child’s innate ability to seek out knowledge within three key domains for both adaptive functioning and survival purposes. For example; ‘Psychology’ – knowledge of one’s intentions, motives, emotions and beliefs. ‘Physics’ – knowledge of inanimate objects in space and their properties. ‘Biology’ – The knowledge of all living things. With this in mind, according to Spelke & Kinzler (2007), Gelman (2002) the evolutionary development of these three domains allows us as individuals to understand how children at an early age can differentiate between biological and non-living objects.

More importantly, how a child’s social-psychological development occurs within an environment that they perceive as being safe. Many core-knowledge theorists like Gopnik & Meltzoff (1977) also suggest that a child’s naïve understanding of these domains are categorised by the child into informal non-detective ‘folk’ theories. Namely, how children divide world events and objects into basic categories. In addition, how each domain or category consists of several mechanisms to explain an observable, unobservable phenomenon? For example; in Ross, Medin, Coley, & Atran’s (2003) view, children before the age of seven find it difficult to comprehend on a biological level how plants are living organisms. As a child does not perceive a plant as being goal orientated. However, according to core-knowledge theorists Opfer & Gelman (2001), a child with age will recognise the many properties associated with the category of animals. Noticeably, two such traits would include growth and reproduction.

A ‘Child’s Theory of Mind’

Doherty (2008) argued that a child’s social interaction within multiple social settings will result in a child’s intentions, beliefs, and desires becoming more coherent as they form their own ‘theory of mind.’ However, before this state of mind develops there are multiple milestones or precursors that occur during early infant development. Namely, ‘joint attention’ which refers to the infant and their social partner’s ability to recognise each other’s direction of gaze towards an object. Moreover, it also relates to a shift in focus towards the object by the observer. In addition, according to Rochat (2004) ‘social referencing’ is exhibited during the same eight to 12 month period after birth when infants try to imitate facial features or emotional cues like fear, anger after the observation of another person’s reaction to an unknown stimulus. According to Wellman & Gelman (1998), there is a correlation between one’s coherent theory of mind and one’s understanding of another child’s desires or actions.

For example; young children are capable of predicting outcomes within stories as a result of understanding each character’s desires. With this in mind, behavioural patterns can be altered when a child perceives that they are required to play with other children. Moreover, in Bartsch & Wellman’s (1995) view, three-year-old children begin to demonstrate a unified rudimentary conceptualisation or belief about another child’s intentions. For example; “Why is Alex getting a blanket?” The child might reply “because his dog (Basil) is sleepy, it’s time for him to go to bed.” Wellman (1990) also argued that children during this developmental stage will start to form mature thoughts about another child’s state of mind. These thoughts might include the understanding of the other child’s imagination, memories and dreams. Moreover, that children at this stage will start to grasp the concept that nonphysical objects like shadows do not process a state of mind.

False Beliefs

Even though a child at three years of age has an understanding of another child’s state of mind. A three-year-old’s theory of mind still has its limitations. This is evident when a child tries to solve problems that are related to ‘false-beliefs.’ For example; when a child is asked to predict the intentions of a character, the child is often in ‘conflict’ with what they know to be true and the understanding of the characters ‘false-belief.’ Consider the following false-belief displacement task. Two hand puppets named Ted & Lilli sit beside a red box upon a table in front of a three-year-old child. Located in front of the red box another white box also resides. Ted (the puppet) places Lilli’s toy into the red box while Lilli (the other puppet) watches. Lilli is then asked to leave the room for a while. It’s during her absence when Ted relocates the toy into the other box. Noticeably, upon Lilli’s return, the child is asked to predict where Lilli will look for her toy?

In Wellman, Gross, & Watson’s (2001) view, a four-year-old under the same circumstances would find this task to be simplistic as they have the ‘theory of mind’ to separate their own beliefs from the beliefs of others. However, according to Gopnik & Wellman (1994), a three-year-old would select the new location as they are unable to separate their beliefs from Lilli’s. Noticeably, the child’s false-beliefs is also known as a ‘realist’ error and is based on the child’s knowledge of the toys new location. Favell (2004) attributed this false-belief with a child’s ability to form complex abstract theoretical frameworks of social situations. Moreover, as acknowledged by many developmental theorists, researchers like Astington & Baird (2005) have correlated a child’s understanding of false-beliefs with a child’s improved complex social interactive play.

A sociocultural approach to cognitive development

So far cognition has been attributed to the interpersonal development of mental processes within the brain. However, according to Rogoff (2003), the sociocultural approach relates to the influence of cognitive development on a child by others. Namely, the interpersonal guidance from other children, parents, peers and teachers. Noticeably, Rogoff (2003) called this interaction of knowledge transfer ‘guided participation’ as individuals will implement ‘cultural tools’ like diagrams, pictures and language to enhance a child’s cognitive development. In addition, Todge, Petnam & Valsirer (1996) attributed the variance in intellectual development to the technological achievements within different cultures.

For example; East-Asian children at the age of three starts to focus on the importance of learning mental arithmetic problems by the implementation of the ‘abacus.’ Whereas, North American children are unlikely to learn such arithmetic problems at this age. With this in mind, Barnstein & Bruner (1989) suggested that ‘socialscaffolding’ within different cultures occurs as children learn to solve puzzles, problems with the support and interaction of others within their environment.

For example; Vygosky (1987) termed the ‘zone of proximal development’ as the area in which a child attempts to resolve a task both with and without the help of a more knowledgeable person. In addition, Conner & Cross (2003) acknowledged the correlation between a parent’s assistance and the child’s level of competence as the mother or father will base their guidance on the child’s ability to perform a task. Conversely, Vygotsky argued that poor academic performance might be caused by a negative learning environment or intellectual disability. With this in mind, researchers like Haywood & Lida (2006) have devised tools to help motivate individuals to improve their academic performance. There is also the (2004) ‘Wechster Intelligence Scale for children’ test available to determine a child’s cognitive development level.

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