Developmental Psychology in Memory

We wouldn’t get too far in life without our ability to make memories. Musing on cherished memories brings us a lot of happiness and satisfaction in life, but our memory helps us adapt and plan for the future, too. Memory is integral to the human experience. Have you ever wondered how our memory develops?

Developmental Psychology in Memory Developmental Psychology in Memory

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Contents
Table of contents
    • The stages of memory development.
    • Memory development in early childhood.
    • Memory development in adolescence.
    • Working memory development and age.
    • The importance of memory development.

    The development of memories is an active process that changes throughout our lives. Research suggests that memory development stages intensify and change during childhood through adolescence. Once a person reaches a peak age (thought to be in the mid-20s), memory gradually declines. However, illnesses and learning disabilities can affect memory development (such as Alzheimer’s disease and dyslexia).

    Before we look at memory development across the lifespan, let’s examine memory development itself.

    Developmental Psychology in Memory album of greyscale photos StudySmarterFig. 1 - Photo album of greyscale photos.

    Memory Development Stages

    Memory development involves different cognitive processes. Three of the most important stages in the development of memories are encoding, storage, and retrieval.

    Encoding

    Encoding is the initial stage of perception and of learning new information. At any moment in our lives, we are bombarded with sensory information. This is why the process of encoding is a selective one. During the encoding process, important information is distinguished from less important or unnecessary information. Since the information comes to us through our sensory processes, the encoding happens through our nervous system.

    Sensory information can be encoded by three different systems, visual, acoustic, or semantic processes. You might remember where you put your phone by mentally seeing it on your desk. This information was coded visually. However, you might remember your friend’s phone number by repeating it over and over. This is acoustic coding. Semantic coding happens when we remember something by associating it with a certain meaning. We do this with art, symbols, learning words, ad many other things. Most of our long-term memories are encoded semantically.

    Storage

    The storage stage concerns how much information is stored, where it is stored, and for how long. With memory storage, we are primarily talking about short and long-term memory. Short-term memory is where we hold conscious information for immediate use and is of limited capacity. Long-term memory is vast and full of information we are unaware of.

    Retrieval

    Retrieval is about recalling information. There are three primary categories of recalling information: free, cued, and serial recall.

    • Free recall involves recalling information in any order. You might recall a list of items sequentially, from most to least recent, or by grouping items that were listed close together.
    • Cued recall depends on cues, or things that help trigger a memory. This could be a song, a smell, seeing an object associated with an event, or countless other things. Cues can be anything that makes you recall an event or information.
    • Serial recall involves recalling information in the order of its occurrence. You might recall an event by building on the chronology of your experiences.

    Developmental Psychology in Memory girl reading in a park StudySmarterFig. 2 - Little girl reading a book in a park.

    Memory Development in Early Childhood

    When we are born, our cognitive abilities, such as memory, develop gradually. Sebastián and Hernández-Gil (2012) tested this development by investigating the capacity of the phonological loop from childhood to adolescence.

    The study was conducted on 570 students aged 5-17 years from Madrid. The researchers divided the participants into five age groups. They recorded the average digit span for each age. They used a standardised procedure.

    The digit span test is a test designed to measure the capacity of the phonological loop. In a digit span test, the researcher reads a sequence of numbers and asks participants to recall the correct order. The length of the sequence increases each time. The test aims to find out how many numbers the participants can remember in the correct sequence.

    The results:

    The average value for the digit span increases with age. However, there are considerable differences between 5 and 11 years. After this age, however, the capacity of the phonological loop rises steadily. When the average digit span was recorded for each age rather than age group, it was found that the values decreased. For example, at age 15, the average score was 5.82, but at age 16, the average score was 5.75. Overall, age affects the ability to remember a digit span.

    Age groupMean digit span score
    53.76
    6-84.34
    9-115.13
    12-145.46
    15-175.83

    Sebastián and Hernández-Gil (2010) previously conducted a similar study on the elderly. The results showed that healthy older people aged 6582 years had a mean score of 4.44, while patients with dementia had a mean digit span of 4.20.

    Memory Development in Adolescence

    Memory is a cognitive process of great importance in adolescence, during which it develops. The accuracy of memory recall depends on the strategy used to remember the information.In a study by Waters (1982), 8th and 10th-grade students recalled a pair of words. After the recall, researchers asked the participants which of the following strategies they had used to remember the word pairs:

    • Careful reading.

    • Rehearsal.

    • Visual elaboration.

    • Verbal elaboration.

    The results found that:

    • Strategy use correlated positively with recall performance at both ages.

    • It was hypothesised that age differences and performance on recall were due to increased strategy effectiveness.

    The above two studies suggest the increase in memory capacity and accuracy in childhood is due to the development of the memory process. However, it is due to learning to rehearse and recall memories better in adolescence.

    Working Memory Development and Age

    Research in psychology suggests that cognitive abilities such as memory gradually decline with age. However, this change does not affect all aspects of memory in healthy older people. Psychologists have found that typically:

    Ageing largely does not affect semantic and procedural memory:

    • Semantic memories of information with meaning, typically about the world and concepts, including everyday knowledge, such as not crossing the street when a car is approaching.

    • Procedural memories of how to do something, e.g., how to cook.

    Ageing seems to affect episodic, source and flashbulbs memories:

    • Episodic memories of personal experiences, i.e., memories of what, when, and where the event occurred. These include, for example, memories of a fight a person got into when they were 12 years old.

    • Source memories of where and when you learned something. For example, remember how your father taught you to ride a bike at the park.
    • Flashbulb long-lasting, detailed memory that evokes emotion after experiencing a significant moment. For example, when you learn that a family member has died.

    Memory and Mental Illnesses and Learning Disabilities

    Many mental illnesses and learning disabilities can affect memory, such as dyslexia and Alzheimer’s. These are illnesses that affect different age groups of the population.

    Dyslexia

    Dyslexia is a learning disability that causes problems with reading words and numbers fluently and accurately. This disability usually begins in childhood or adolescence. People with dyslexia have difficulty processing information and are thought to have a ‘weak’ working memory.Research suggests dyslexia affects many cognitive functions, such as:

    • Impairments in central executive functions (a component of the WMM that sends information to the other components of the model).
    • Visuospatial processing, or information we see, may also be affected.

    • Phonological processing, or information we hear.

    Central executive functions have also been associated with directing attention, concentrating, making decisions, and recalling memories.

    Working memory comes into play when we process multiple pieces of information at once. In dyslexia, information is often more scattered, working memory capacity is usually lower, and working memory has difficulty processing this information and transferring it to long-term memory.Since dyslexia primarily affects children and adolescents, they do not follow the typical memory developmental stages of their age group.

    Alzheimer’s

    Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease affecting cognitive abilities such as memory. Since it is a progressive disease, the memory of Alzheimer’s patients deteriorates over time. This disease mainly affects the elderly population (over 65). Alzheimer’s disease is thought to be the result of atrophy of the brain.

    Brain atrophy is the loss of cells and neurons. The brain region with brain atrophy causes this region to lose functions and be less efficient.

    Alzheimer’s disease is characterised by memory loss. This can affect:

    As a result of memory loss, the disease may also affect other cognitive abilities.

    Examples of symptoms that may occur due to memory loss include:

    • Confusion.
    • Personality changes.
    • Difficulty with logic and reasoning.
    • Difficulty with reading.
    • Difficulty speaking.
    • Low moods.
    • Anxiety.

    Memory Development: Importance

    Memory is important for a variety of practical reasons. Memory enables us to learn, which in turn helps us to adapt and survive. Understanding how memory works can help us to become better, faster, and more efficient learners. Memory is important to us cognitively as well. Our memories help to build our concept of self. They influence our emotions and guide our thoughts, beliefs, and decisions. Without memory, we are unable to think about and plan for the future.

    The study of memory also gives us more insight into the human experience. It helps us understand how learning takes place in the brain. It shows us the greater connectivity of the brain and which areas are involved in our individual mental processes.

    Memory impairment is also linked to greater rates of depression. It is both a symptom of depression and a consequence of memory impairment. Memory loss helps isolate the areas of the brain that are affected by certain conditions and disorders.

    Developmental Psychology in Memory - Key takeaways

    • Three important stages of memory development are encoding, storage, and retrieval.
    • Our capacity to remember gets stronger throughout childhood.
    • Ageing largely does not affect semantic and procedural memory. It seems to affect episodic, source and flashbulbs memories.
    • Diseases and disabilities like Dyslexia and Alzheimer’s affect memory development.
    • Memory is important for our survival, sense of self, and overall well-being.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Developmental Psychology in Memory

    Why is memory development important? 

    Memory development is important because it is a cognitive process needed throughout our lives. For example, learning and remembering how to do things such as dressing yourself, eating, and interacting with others all depend on memory.

    What are the types of memory and how do they affect development?

    Memory types include short-term memory, working memory, long-term memory, and other variants (such as episodic memory and procedural memory). They affect development as they show the different ages with their respective capacities and reflect a developing brain. Learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, and illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease, primarily affect the working memory. 

    What are the three types of memory in psychology? 

    Three types of memory in psychology are:

    • Working memory.
    • Short-term memory.
    • Long-term memory.

    What is an example of memory in psychology? 

    An example of a memory in psychology is procedural memory. These are memories used to remember how to do things, such as making tea. 

    What is memory formation in child development?

    Memory formation in child development occurs due to the absorption of information, which neurons then store in the brain. These neurons form complex networks and build off of themselves and others (schemas).

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Did each age group Sebastián and Hernández-Gil (2012) tested show an increase in mean digit span score?

    Which of the following memory types decline in the elderly? 

    Which of the following types of memory has been found to decline in the elderly?  

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