Memory and Information Processing Over Time

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  • 0:07 Memory Development…
  • 2:28 Memory During…
  • 3:53 Memory During Adulthood
  • 5:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jade Mazarin

Jade is a board certified Christian counselor with an MA in Marriage and Family Therapy, and a certification in Natural Health. She is also a freelance writer on emotional health and spirituality.

Memory is something we rely on throughout our lives. But, how does it first develop? In this lesson, we will explore the first signs of memory in infants and how memory changes over our lives.

Memory Development During Infancy

Are babies able to remember things? When does memory start to kick in?

Babies exhibit observable short-term memory the first year of life and further into the second. This can be seen by what's called deferred imitation, or the baby mimicking nonverbal tasks moments after they are demonstrated. For example, let's say a mother gives her baby a rattle for the first time. She shakes it and then puts it down. A couple minutes later, her baby is able to pick up that rattle, shake it and put it down. This shows that there is some memory at work in the child.

Between 6 and 12 months, infants remember familiar faces and places. Eleven-month-old Danny, for example, is visiting the doctor's office again. He has some recollection of the office and the doctor and starts immediately crying. However, when he sees his grandmother later that day, he recognizes her face and immediately starts to smile and giggle.

It is not until around two years that infants begin to exhibit long-term memory. An experiment was done where twelve 9-month-olds and the same number of 17- to 24-month-olds were shown how to play with new toys and expected to imitate the process. For example, the researcher gave them a toy truck, put a driver in the front seat, put a rock in the truck bed and then rolled the truck.

Four months later, the researcher returned to see if they remembered what to do with the truck. The nine now 13-month-olds did not remember what to do. The now 21- to 28-month-olds, however, exhibited strong recollection. This has been attributed to significant cell development in the hippocampus and frontal lobes of the brain, the areas in charge of memory.

We go through a lot as babies, but why is it we often can't remember anything earlier than around age four? The tendency to forget events the first few years of our lives is referred to as childhood amnesia.

Sunny, for example, is being asked in her psychology class what her earliest memories are. She can only remember back to about age four. Her professor explains that this is most likely due to the brain's lack of development and weak long-term memory the first few years.

Memory During Childhood and Adolescence

Between the ages of two and five, most children are able to focus their attention in order to pick up information in their present and then recall it later on. Their episodic memory increases in this time, which means they are able to remember personal experiences. A child who has been away for Christmas vacation is able to come back to school after a week or two and tell her classmates about what she did with her family.

These first several years also include the formation of their long-term memory. In order to get events into their long-term memory, children utilize scripts, or a viewpoint of events happening in a sequence of steps. This perspective helps children both remember and understand happenings.

For example, Sandra went to the ice skating rink yesterday with her dad. When asked about it today, she remembers it happening in stages. Dad and I drove to the place, put on skates, skated around the rink several times and then drove home.

At the start of adolescence, the brain begins developing more fully, leading to swifter incoming information, better storage and recall. This can be reflected in the amount of information teens remember as they go through their school and extracurricular schedules and study for cumulative exams. The end of adolescence marks a considerable improvement in memory.

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