Memory Development in Children - Memory Essay Example




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Imagine your life without memory.  There would be no savoring, the remembrances of joyful moments, no guilt or misery over painful recollections.  Each moments, no guilt or misery over painful recollections.  Each moment would be a fresh experience.  But each person would be a stranger, every language foreign, each task – dressing, cooking, biking – a novel challenge.

Your memory is your mind’s storehouse, the reservoir of your accumulated learning.  To Cicero, memory was “the treasury and guardian of all things.”  To a psychologist, memory is any indication that learning has persisted over time.

The Meaning of Memory

Most psychology books would define memory as the cognitive processes that allow people to store, retain, and recall their experiences.  Memory is the power of the mind by which past mental acts and states of consciousness retained, recalled, and recognized.  It is the capability of the mind to preserve conscious processes, that is, to retain representations of past experiences and to reproduce them later with recognition or awareness that they are past experiences. People also use the word memory to describe what a person knows about past events.   Moore (1989) has defined memory as the “conservation of past experience and its later utilization as the occasion may arise”.  The mere recall of a past experience is only one phase in the process of memory.  There must be added to recall the recognition that what has been recalled is something which has been known or experienced previously at some time.  Memory always implies a reference to the past, and in this respect differs from imagination which is not thus limited but refers to the present or the future.  Memory includes recognition while imagination does not. Memory is an essential condition in the assimilation of knowledge, for the simplest judgment and the most involved reasoning process depend upon and imply the retention, recall, and recognition of past experiences.  Everyone realizes the necessity, the importance, and the value of memory in all positions and professions in life.

Development of Memory in Children

Memory is a central process in children’s cognitive development.  It involves the retention of information overtime.  Conscious memory comes into play as early as 7 months of age, although children and adults have little or no memory of events experienced before the age of 3.

To explore children’s memory, it is interesting to know more about short-term memory.  In short-term memory, individuals retain information for up to 15 to 30 seconds, if there is no rehearsal.   Using rehearsal, we can keep information in short-term memory for a much longer period.  One method of assessing short-term memory is the memory-span task.  This is taken in an IQ test where one hears a short list of stimuli – usually digits – presented at a rapid pace (one per second, for example).  Then, the person is asked to repeat the digits.  Research with the memory-span task suggests that short-term memory increases during early childhood.  For example, in one investigation, memory span increased from about 2 digits in 2- to 3-year old children to about 5 digits in 7-year-old children.  Yet between 7 and 13 years of age, memory span increased only by 1.5 digits (Dempster, 1991).  But one must keep in mind, that memory span involves wide individual differences.  This individual variation across children is why IQ and various tests are used.

Why are there differences in memory span because of age?  Older children rehearse the digits more than younger children.  Speed and efficiency of processing information are important, too, especially the speed with which memory items can be identified.  For example, in one study, children were tested on their speed at repeating words presented orally (Case, Kurland, & Goldberg, 1992).  Speed of repetition was a powerful predictor of memory span.  Indeed, when the speed of repetition was controlled, the 6-year-olds` memory spans were equal to those of young adults!  The speed-of-processing explanation highlights an important point in the information-processing perspective.  That is, the speed with which a child processes information is an important aspect of the child’s cognitive abilities.

Theories of Memory Development in Children

Children’s memory improves even as more as they move into middle and late childhood years.  This fact is not surprising though.  What is more interesting to find out is why the improvement occurs.  Researchers have offered four theories for the memory development in children.

Processing Speed Theory.  One possible explanation for the age changes in memory span is that memory capacity increase with age.  Stated figuratively, older children have more slots in which to hold information temporarily.  In this theory, younger children have smaller memory spans because they forget information that they receive when their few slots are already full.  The increase with age in memory slots is usually attributed to maturation.  That is, normal biological changes in the brain are assumed to produce an increase in memory capacity.

A few theorists have suggested that age changes in memory span are due to biological changes in memory capacity (Pascual-Leone, 1990), but some data are difficult for these theorists to explain.  Apparent memory span varies for different tasks and the reasons for these variations are not clear.  If children had a certain number of memory slots and adults had more, the differences between children’s and adults` performance should be more consistent across tasks (Seigler, 1993).

Still, the hypothesis of age changes in memory capacity is difficult to tet, and therefore difficult to disconfirm.  Some researchers judge the current evidence as showing that memory capacity does not increase with age (Dempster, 1991).  Other researchers tentatively draw the same conclusion but consider the issue still debatable (Flavell et al., 1993).

World Knowledge.  The second theory for changes in remembering emphasizes the benefits of increases in relevant knowledge.  This theory’s general hypothesis about memory development is that, memory improves with age because older children have a more extensive knowledge bas, or greater knowledge about the world, than younger children do.   Children add to their knowledge base each day, so they should more often find that their knowledge helps in solving specific memory tasks.  In short, they should remember things more easily as they become more knowledgeable.

Memory Strategies.  Another important theory to explain age changes in memory is the use of memory strategies, which includes rehearsal, organizing information, and elaboration.  The age changes are similar across tasks only when children and adults solve tasks in the same way.  For example, adults and children use the same cognitive process when working on a task like mental rotation.  On certain tasks, however, adults use cognitive strategies that children do not use.  By using appropriate memory strategies, adults multiply the benefits of their greater processing speed.  Age changes in strategy use provide a second explanation for the improvements with age in remembering.  These strategies of course, is believed to increase or improved children`s memory.

Metamemory Theory.  The fourth explanation involves metamemory, people’s thoughts and ideas about memory.  One aspect of metamemory involves judgments about how much information can be held in memory at one time.  In several experiments, college students and children of various ages predicted how many pictures of objects they could remember (Flavell et al., 1993).  Then their actual memory was assessed.  The result shows that preschool and kindergarten children predicted that they could remember many more pictures than they actually remembered.  As children grew older, their predictions became more accurate.

John Flavell (1995) has described four aspects of attention that seem to develop as children mature.

1.      Controlling Attention.  As children grow older, they are more able to control

their attention.  They not only have longer attention spans; they also focus more accurately on what is important while ignoring irrelevant details.

2.      Fitting Attention to the Task.  As children develop, they become better at fitting their attention to the task.  Older children, for example, know that they should focus their attention on the items they keep missing when they are trying to learn a list of words or pictures (Berk, 1991).

3.      Planning.  Children improve in their ability to plan how to direct their attention.  They look for clues to tell them what is important and are ready to pay attention to those things.

4.      Monitoring.  Children improve their abilities to monitor their attention, to decide if they are using the right strategy, and to change approaches when necessary to follow a complicated series of events.

Many differences in attention and perception relate to factors other than age and

maturation.  Children can vary greatly vary in their ability to attend selectively to information in their environment .

Adulthood, Aging, and Memory
Memory changes with age across the adult years.  Memory changes during the adult years, but not all memory changes with age in the same way (Balota, Dolani, & Ducheck, 2000).  One of the most controversial questions in the study of memory is whether adult memory parallels the gradually accelerating decline of physical abilities. Employers, for example, may wonder whether to encourage their senior workers to retire – or to capitalize on their experience.  In general, people perceive the elderly as mentally less sharp (Kite & Johnson, 1998). Is this stereotype accurate?  Is there truth in the old proverb, “You can’t teach an old dog new trick”?  Or does truth lie with another old proverb:  “You’re never too old to learn”?
Early adulthood is the peak time for some types of learning and remembering.  In one experiment, Thomas Crook and Robin West (1990) invited 1205 people to learn some names.  The result is that younger adults` recall for the names consistently surpassed that of older adults.  In addition, quicker learning by younger adults is not restricted to human beings.  Aging monkeys, too, take progressively more time to master new tasks (Bachevalier & others, 1992).

But another experiment by Schonfield and Robertson (1996) asked adults of various ages to learn a list of 24 words.  Without giving any clues, the researchers asked some to recall as many words as they could from the list.  The results show that younger adults had better recall.  Others, given multiple-choice questions that asked them simply to recognize the words they had seen, exhibited no memory decline with age.  This type of memory is especially good when older adults are tested early rather than late in a day (May & Others, 1993).

In another research, older adults remember older events better than more recent events, typically reporting that they can remember what happened to them years ago but can’t remember what they did yesterday.  However, there are also researchers that have consistently have found out that, contrary to such self reports, in older adults the older the memory, the less accurate it is.  This has been documented in studies of memory for high school classmates, foreign language learned in school over the life span, names of grade school teachers, and autobiographical facts kept in diaries (Kausler, 1994).

Older children and adults remember little, if anything, of their infant and early childhood years.  How well do they remember events from later in development, such as their high school graduation?  In one study, even after almost five decades, adults picked out their high school classmates with better than 70 percent accuracy ( Bahrick, Bahrick, & Wittlinger, 1985).

One recent study examined verbal and visuospatial working memory from 6 to 57 years of age (Swanson, 1999).  Working memory performance generally increased across childhood. Adolescence, and early adulthood, peaked at 45 years of age, and declined at 57 years of age.  The increase and decrease in working memory were related to both remembering new information and maintaining the memory of old information.  In this study, working memory performance was significantly linked with reading and math achievement.  Researchers also found declines in working memory during the late adulthood years (Salthouse, 2000). Thus, older adults are more likely to forget which items they wanted to buy at the grocery store (unless they wrote them down on a list and brought with them) than they are to forget how to drive a car.  Their speed may be slower in driving the car, but they remember how to do it.

An increasing number of studies are finding that people’s about memory play an important role in their actual memory (Cavanaugh, 2000):  It matters what people tell themselves about their ability to remember.  One recent study found that individuals with low anxiety about their memory skills and high self-efficacy regarding their use of memory in everyday contexts had higher memory performance than their high – anxiety/low-self-efficacy counterparts (McDougall & others, 1999).  Other researchers are also finding that positive or negative beliefs about one’s memory skills are related to actual memory performance (Kwon, 1999).  Nonetheless, some experts on the cognitive aspects of aging caution that beliefs about memory are not robust (Schaie, 2000).  Thus, just how strongly beliefs about memory are related to memory performance remains controversial.

So, based on researches by several researchers, we can conclude that: Some, but not all, aspects of memory decline in older adults.  Thus, successful aging does not mean eliminating memory decline, but reducing it and adapting to it.


So, there exist great differences in memory among individuals.  There are some persons who acquire readily but forget quickly; they are “like wax to receive and like wax to retain”.  There are others who acquire with difficulty but retain accurately and tenaciously; they are “like marble to receive and like marble to retain.” There are those who work hard to acquire only to find that they retain little or nothing, they are “like marble to receive and like wax to retain.”  Finally, there are some fortunate individuals who acquire easily and retain with great persistence and fidelity; they are “like wax to receive and like marble to retain.”  Usually children who learn the quickest and the most in a given period of time will remember will remember the most and for the longest period of time.  Poor retention is usually due to one of two causes, lack of learning capacity are so varied, it is of great consequence to a teacher to know that in an ordinary class the retentive capacity of the best children may be three or even four times as good as that of the poorest children.  Knowledge of individual differences in memory is important since the development and experiences of children must be taken into consideration in assigning the amount and difficulty of schoolwork.



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