Reminders Symbolic Understanding And Memory Development

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This line of research has shown that well-timed reminders are highly effective in extending young children's event memory. We have also shown that a variety of types of reminders are effective for children from 14 to 24 months of age. Children at 18 months can be reminded of an event they experienced 8 to 10 weeks in the past by reenacting a subset of the same actions, by viewing someone perform some of the same actions, by viewing a video of someone else performing the actions, viewing a videotape of someone showing the objects used, or viewing a videotape of the same actions performed on new objects. By 24 months of age, reinstatement occurs when children view photographs of an event or observe someone demonstrating the actions using a small-scale model.

The effectiveness of different kinds of reminders for young children, including the use of symbolic reminders such as videos and photographs indicates that 1- and 2-year-olds' are more flexible in the kinds of experiences that can reinstate past memories as compared to younger infants. If infants are trained on one exemplar, their memories will not be reinstated by partial reminders that do not contain functional information (Greco et al., 1990). In contrast, toddlers do not require action information in order for reinstatement to occur, but their recall is better when both object and action information is provided.

These findings suggest that at least by 18 months, children are encoding and storing more complete information about the individual components of events. Toddlers may be able to appreciate that activities are composed of various components (e.g., action and object information), and that some components may be interchangeable under certain circumstances. If children have encoded event information in terms of more specific event components, then partial event information can be effective in reinstating memories through a process of spreading activation. Even encountering information that is slightly different from the original experience can serve as a reminder if children can recognize the similarity between the reminder and the original event. In contrast, if events are encoded as single units, without parsing into event components, reinstatement may not occur unless a significant portion of the complete event is reencountered.

Children's developing understanding of the representational functions of symbolic media may also contribute to reminder effectiveness in young children. For example, photographs were not effective reminders for children at 18 months, but evidence of reinstatement with photographs was found at 24 months. Even greater memory enhancement with photograph reminders was evident at 30 months. The amount of information included in the photographs as compared to videos cannot wholly account for these findings; reinstatement occurred with 18-month-olds when they viewed videos of objects without action information which is similar to the kind of event information shown in photographs. Thus, with increasing age and experience, children may be reminded of events with increasingly more abstract reminders.

However, our research indicates that young children's ability to use video, photograph, and scale model reminders does not follow the same developmental progression as their ability to use information from video, photographs, and scale models to guide their search in an object-retrieval task. Children are able to use videos as reminders 18 months before they use video information to retrieve hidden objects; they use photographs as reminders 6 months earlier than they are able to use photographs as search guides; and they can use scale models as reminders 12 months earlier than they are able to use scale models as search guides. These ages must, of course, be considered as approximate. Both the reminding task and the object retrieval task can be made more or less difficult by varying the parameters of the task (e.g., DeLoache, 1995; Uttal, Schreiber, & DeLoache, 1995). For example, children's recall could be facilitated by providing them with fewer activities to remember, by shortening the retention interval, and perhaps, by providing additional memory cues. However, as summarized in Figure 9.7, the findings from this and the previous investigations add to the body of research on children's use of representational information indicating a different sequence of development across different tasks.

Reminder Task Object-Retrieval Task

Memory Reminder Chart
Figure 9.7 Sequences of progression of representational competence for reminder tasks and the object-retrieval task.

One explanation for these results may be that children do not need to understand the symbolic nature of representational media such as photographs, videos, and scale models for them to be effective reminders. It may be that to use a photograph, video, or a scale model effectively as a reminder, one must only recognize the similarity between the representational medium and the previously experienced event, and that is enough to activate the memory for the past event. This matching between the representational reminder and a child's memory of a previous event can take place at an implicit level that does not require conscious awareness (e.g., Tulving, 1983). Thus, an explicit understanding of the representation-referent relationship may not be necessary. Therefore, the amount of information and similarity of that information to a child's memory representation of a previous event may be the important factors in the development of children's understanding of representational reminders rather than the understanding of the symbolic nature of the representational medium.

Increased flexibility in both the type of reminders that are effective and in the amount of original event information that must be conveyed in a reminder for it to be effective may contribute to the emergence of durable autobiographic memories in the third year of life. Children's ability to use photographs as reminders, in particular, may allow young children to use family photograph collections as reminders of their own experiences. A corresponding increase in the retention period for episodic recall during this time period also impacts the frequency of reminding opportunities for young children. If 2- to 3-year-old children can remember events for several months without reminding, the window in which a reminder can reinstate memory for a past event becomes longer, increasing the likelihood of encountering an effective reminder within the retention interval (Bauer, 2002; Bauer et al., 2002; Howe & Courage, 1993). For example, in our study of photograph reminders with 24-and 30-month-olds, we had explored the possibility of using elicited imitation procedure instead of deferred imitation. However, we found that 24-month-olds were able to remember actions up to 16 weeks later without a reminder if they had the opportunity to enact them once during training. At 18 months, children showed evidence of forgetting the same action sequences after 10 weeks. Thus, from 18 to 24 months we found an increase in retention of 6 weeks for the action sequences used in our research after a single enactment. Assuming this trend would continue, by 3 years we would expect that children could recall events they experienced for at least 7 months without reminders. With an effective reminder, memory could be increased by several weeks or months.

A very significant development in reminding also occurs around 3 years of age which allows for even greater flexibility in memory reinstatement. In addition to physical and representational reminders, by three years of age children are engaging in verbal conversations about past events with their parents (Fivush, 1991; Hudson, 1990b; Nelson, 1993; Nelson & Fivush, 2000, 2004). Although children begin talking about the past sometime between 16 and 20 months (Eisenberg, 1985), children under three years of age show little evidence of being able to use language alone to reinstate event memories. When they engage in joint reminiscing between the ages of 2 to 3, however, conversations about past events provide an important reinstatement context for autobiographic memories. Several studies have shown that participation in parent-child conversations about past events enhances children's event recall, especially when parents provide complex and elaborate accounts of events (McCabe & Peterson, 1991; Reese, Haden, & Fivush, 1993; Haden, Haine, & Fivush, 1997). Through discussions about past events, children's event memories are .reinstated and event narratives are constructed. Conversations therefore assist children in recalling event details, but also help children develop a coherent account of events in an appropriate spatial-temporal context that includes evaluative information about events.

Toddlers, therefore, are in a transition phase in terms of their ability to used reminders to reinstate episodic memories. They are able to take advantage of a greater variety of reminder types as compared to infants including more abstract representations of events such as video displays. By 2 years, two-dimensional photographs of events are sufficient to remind them of past events. However, there is no evidence that 2-year-olds can use language alone to reinstate event memories. By age 3, verbally recalling an event, even with an experimenter, enhances later recall of the event (Hudson, 1990a). More research on the emergence of verbal reminders from 2 to 3 years of age is important for understanding this critical transition from visual to verbal reminders in memory reinstatement in young children.

To fully understand how reminders can extend children's memories over very long periods of time, some important questions regarding timing and reminder effectiveness also need to be addressed. One timing question concerns the time frame in which a reminder can be effective. We found that a video reminder provided 2 weeks after an event had no impact on 18-month-olds' recall 10 weeks later, but the same video reminder was effective if shown after 10 weeks and children were asked to recall the actions immediately after reinstatement (Sheffield & Hudson, 2004, Experiment 1). We also found reinstatement effects when the video reminder was provided in children's homes after 10 weeks and recall was assessed in the laboratory the next day (Sheffield & Hudson, 2004, Experiment 2). These findings indicate that a reminder is more effective when given closer to the point of forget ting. However, we have not yet tested points in time. For example, would a reminder shown after 8 or 9 weeks be effective if recall was tested 1 or 2 weeks later? Could a reminder be effective if it were administered 10 weeks later, after forgetting had occurred?

Another timing question concerns the long-term effects of reminders. Although viewing a video reminder after 10 weeks was effective in reinstating 18-month-olds' recall, the effects of the video reminder were almost gone 2 weeks later (Sheffield & Hudson, 2004, Experiment 3). Thus, watching a video of an event may be effective in reminding 18-month-olds of their past experience, but it is clearly not equivalent to actually reexperiencing the event. This may explain one reason why the vast majority of very young children's memories do not persist over long periods. If one of the key components to remembering an event is whether a reinstatement will endure, very young children may have multiple opportunities to be reinstated (e.g., by watching home videos or viewing family photograph albums), but without continual reminding, memories may not last even if reinstatement occurs.

This raises a third question regarding timing and reminders: What are the effects of multiple reinstatements over a very long time period? Infant research has shown that found that multiple reinstatement sessions can extend recall for up to 1% years (Hartshorn, 2003; Hayne, 1990). If toddlers can already remember events for longer periods than infants, with multiple reinstatements they may be able to remember events for several years, perhaps into adulthood. Research is needed on the long-term effects of various kinds of reminders as well as on the effects of multiple reinstatements to understand how reinstatement can contribute to very long-term event memory.

Additional explorations of reminder effects in young children can address many of these important questions. As researchers seek to understand why the offset of infantile amnesia occurs around 3 years of age, explanations have focused largely on developments in fundamental memory mechanisms such as increases in retention duration, increased encoding specificity, and a waning of the context-dependent nature of early event encoding (e.g., Rovee-Collier & Hayne, 2000). Explanations have also emphasized the emergence of important developments around the age of 3 that contribute to the construction of an autobiographic memory system such as the formative role of parent-child talk about the past in providing children with a narrative framework for recalling the past (Nelson, 1993; Nelson & Fivush, 2004), the development of a sense of self (Howe & Courage, 1993), and improvements in source monitoring ability (Leichtman, 1999). However, the ability to be reminded of past events is a critical development with has received less attention. The few events from early childhood that adults can recall tend to be events that have been repeatedly discussed and therefore, have been repeatedly reinstated. Even as adults, not all experiences are recalled after long periods of time. Those that are remembered may be those that have been reinstated. Without a full understanding of how reminding contributes to children's event recall and how reminding parameters develop with age, we cannot fully understand the development of long-term event memory.


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