- Sensory preconditioning:
- An association between two stimuli that is established prior to the start of conditioning.
- Working memory capacity:
- An assessment of the how much information can be processed and stored at the same time.
Research activity: childhood memories
Think of a poignant event in your early childhood. It may be the birth of a brother or sister, the loss of a family member, getting or losing a pet, the first day at school, or some other significant event. How old were you when this event occurred? What details can you remember? What was the order of events? Who else was there? Does your memory seem complete?
If you can, ask someone else who was present at the event whether your recollections are correct. This person ideally should be someone who was an adult at the time of the event. How much of what you recalled was correct? Is there anything that you recalled incorrectly? Is there anything that you failed to remember?
- A video showing the experimental method used by Professor Rovee-Collier in her 1989 study.
- Memory for lists: A demo based on Roediger and McDermott (1995).
- Josselyn and Frankland (2012). Infantile amnesia: A neurogenic hypothesis. The hypothesis that infantile amnesia can be largely explained in terms of the slow development of the hippocampus during the early years of life is discussed in detail in this article.
- Rovee-Collier & Cuevas (2009). Multiple memory systems are unnecessary to account for infant memory development: An ecological model. Carolyn Rovee-Collier argues persuasively that infants’ learning abilities are much greater than is commonly supposed.
Please find below biographies of two important researchers in the field of memory: Carolyn Rovee-Collier and Robyn Fivush.
Born in 1942 in Nashville, Tennessee, Carolyn Rovee-Collier grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and attended Louisiana State University (1959–1962), where her father was a Distinguished Professor of Anatomy and Physiology. She became enamored with learning in her sophomore year and volunteered to “run rats” in magnitude of reward studies for her professor. In 1961 and 1962, she received NSF Predoctoral Summer Fellowships from Roscoe B. Jackson ("JAX") Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, to study learning by newborn puppies with Walt Stanley. This experience was formative.
In graduate school at Brown (1962–1966), she studied experimental psychology with Schlosberg (perception), Riggs (sensory scaling, quantitative methods), Pfaffmann (physiological), Blough (operant discrimination), Lipsitt (experimental child), Church (punishment), Engen (psychophysics), Shrier (comparative), Kling (positive reinforcement), and Millward (learning theory). Engen directed her dissertation on olfactory psychophysics with infants in Lipsitt’s Newborn Sensory and Conditioning Laboratory at the Providence Lying-in Hospital. Her training in psychophysics shaped her thinking, leading her to view a stimulus as the “subjective stimulus” and to regard individual learning and retention data as sensory functions, which are expressed in logs (ratios) rather than in absolute values.
In 1965, her first academic appointment was at Trenton State College, in New Jersey. In 1970, she moved to Rutgers University, New Brunswick, where she is Professor of Psychology. For 2 decades, she performed studies on diet selection, antipredator behavior, and thermoregulation with 1- to 21-day-old. Her investigation of learning and memory abilities in 2- to 18-month-old infants has appeared in more than 200 publications, including a book (with Hayne and Colombo) entitled, The development of implicit and explicit memory (John Benjamins/Amsterdam, 2001).
In 2003, Dr Rovee-Collier received the highly coveted Howard Crosby Warren Medal (Society of Experimental Psychologists), awarded for the most outstanding research in experimental psychology in the USA or Canada in the preceding 5 years. She has also received the 2001 Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award (Society for Research in Child Psychology), the 2007 Senior Scientist Award (International Society for Developmental Psychobiology), the 2003 Distinguished Achievement Medal (Graduate School, Brown University), a James McKeen Cattell Fellowship, a MERIT Award and two Research Scientist Awards (NIMH), and was named a 2007 William James Distinguished Lecturer (Association of Psychological Science). Her transcribed autobiography is in the SRCD National Archives as part of its Oral History Project.
She is particularly proud of the many dedicated undergraduate and graduate students who have contributed to her research. Most are co-authors on publications, and some have received national and international recognition (two ISIS and three ISDP Dissertation Awards; four National Psi Chi Undergraduate Research Awards—three first place and one third place).
Dr. Rovee-Collier served as the Editor of Infant Behavior and Development (1981–1998) and the Co-Editor (with Lipsitt) of Advances in Infancy Research (vols. 4–12). She was President of ISIS, ISDP, and the Eastern Psychological Association, and currently she is Secretary-Treasurer (executive officer) of SEP.
During her highly productive career, Rovee-Collier has made, and continues to make, numerous contributes to the study of development and memory. She is perhaps best known for her fortuitous discovery of mobile conjugate reinforcement—a procedure that promotes rapid learning and high response rates throughout an extended session and over multiple sessions. The operant conditioning this paradigm relies upon is inherently interesting to young infants, reducing the likelihood that infants will underperform due to a simple lack of motivation. Through her work using this and other paradigms, she found evidence that a forgotten memory can often be re-activated, or primed, by briefly exposing the subject to an isolated aspect of the original event (a reminder). The reminder completely recovers the memory, which is then re-forgotten at the same rate it was originally forgotten.
Her work has demonstrated that there is a limited period (“time window”) after an event occurs within which a succeeding event can be integrated with its retrieved memory but after which it cannot. A time window progressively widens with each retrieval of the memory, thereby increasing the opportunity for integrating a future event with it. Retrieval later in the time window yields a larger retention benefit.
Rovee-Collier has also found that young infants readily associate stimuli they merely see together, with no reinforcement for doing so. These new associations can remain latent for weeks—perhaps months. Because younger infants are less selective than adults in what aspects of events they attend, they learn more than adults about the same event. In effect, young infants’ “problem” is that they learn too much and must shed associations that are extraneous.
Additionally, she has provided evidence that all of the independent variables that produce functional memory dissociations on indirect and direct tests with amnesiacs also produce functional memory dissociations on reactivation and delayed recognition tests, respectively, with 2- to 6-month-old infants. These data indicate that if there are two memory systems, then they develop simultaneously from very early in infancy, not hierarchically.
Sullivan, M. W., Rovee-Collier, C., & Tynes, D. M. (1979). A conditioning analysis of infant long-term memory. Child Development, 50, 152–162.
Rovee-Collier, C. (1995). Time windows in cognitive development. Developmental Psychology, 31, 147–169.
Rovee-Collier, C. (1997). Dissociations in infant memory: Rethinking the development of implicit and explicit memory. Psychological Review, 104, 467–498.
Barr, R., Vieira, A., & Rovee-Collier, C. (2001). Mediated imitation in 6-month-olds: Remembering by association. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 79, 229–252.
Campanella, J. L., & Rovee-Collier, C. (2005). Latent learning and deferred imitation at 3 months. Infancy, 7, 243–262
Barr, R., Rovee-Collier, C., & Campanella, J. (2005). Retrieval facilitates retrieval: Protracting deferred imitation by 6-month-olds. Infancy, 7, 263–283.
Cuevas, K., Rovee-Collier, C., & Learmonth, A. E. (2006). Infants form associations between memory representations of stimuli that are absent. Psychological Science, 17, 543–549.
Rovee-Collier, C., & Cuevas, K. (2009, January). Multiple memory systems are unnecessary to account for infant memory development: An ecological model. Developmental Psychology, Special Section (A. Diamond, Ed.): The interplay between biology and the environment.
Robyn Fivush was born and grew up in New York City and attended college directly out of high school, going first to Hunter College of the City University of New York and then to State University of New York at Stony Brook, where she graduated with a B.A. in psychology in 1975. She then went straight into a Master's program at the New School for Social Research, completing that in 1977 before completing her Ph.D. at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York in 1983. She became an instructor in 1980 at Baruch College of the City University of New York. During her time there, she also became a research coordinator at the Developmental Psychology Program, at the City University of New York.
Her 2-year post-doctoral fellowship at the Center for Human Information Processing at the University of California, San Diego began in 1982. Following this, she became an Assistant Professor at Emory University, and was promoted to Associate Professor in 1990, and to full Professor in 1996, at which point she became Director of the Institute for Women’s Studies. In 2001, she became the Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Psychology at Emory University.
Fivush was awarded the Lilly Post-doctoral Teaching Award for the time between 1985 and 1986. She was William Evans Fellow at the University of Otago, New Zealand in Spring, 2000. She is also a fellow of the American Psychological Society.
Fivush has been investigating how life stories, or narratives, are developed through social interaction and how they help shape people’s self-identity. For example, the stories families share with each other about their past experiences serve to create a family history, bond the family members, and instill in children how they should relate to other people.
One topic of primary interest to Fivush and her lab has been the ways in which parents and children reminisce. While some parents are more elaborative, including detail, emotion, and evaluation in their narratives, others are less so. These differences hold implications for the type, number, and depth of childhood memories that are retained. These findings have led to the development of the socio-cultural approach to autobiographical memory development, which highlights the role language and culture in advancing the ability to express one’s autobiographical memories in a coherent narrative.
Fivush has been interested in how the emotional qualities of events change the way they are remembered. For instance, negative, stressful experiences tend to produce longer and more thought/emotion-centered narratives, compared to narratives of positive events. These differences may be important to one’s self-understanding and emotional wellbeing.
Fivush is involved in the Emory Asthma Project, which examines how children with chronic asthma cope. The Project has been finding that mothers who encourage more explanatory and emotionally expressive narratives about stressful events relating to the asthma have children with better coping skills and higher levels of emotional wellbeing. Acute, traumatic events, such as hurricanes and tornados, result in characteristically less-detailed and emotional narratives for individuals who experienced more stress. Following these individuals over time, longitudinally, Fivush and colleagues have found that children who had difficulties providing a detailed, emotionally regulated narrative of the trauma in its immediate aftermath were the ones to show the most stress-related symptoms years after the original event took place.
Additionally, Fivush has discovered that, unlike adults, young children who cannot create coherent and emotionally-regulated narratives of stressful events do not benefit from expressive writing (e.g., in diaries). Thus, these children may require the guidance of an adult to help shape the narrative into a more coherent and emotionally regulated work.
Fivush, R., & Nelson, K. (2004). Culture and language in the emergence of autobiographical memory. Psychological Science, 15, 586–590
Fivush, R., Haden, C. A., & Reese, E. (2006). Elaborating on elaborations: Maternal reminiscing style and children's socioemotional outcome. Child Development, 77, 1568–1588
Fivush, R. (2008). Remembering and reminiscing: How individual lives are constructed in family narratives. Memory Studies, 1, 45–54.