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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Child Development and Memory

Post from Child Development Researchers at UNCG

Memory is an important human capacity that allows us to mentally relive our past. Our memories form the basis for our sense of self, guide our thoughts and decisions, influence our emotional reactions, and allow us to learn from our mistakes.  Given this importance, developmental researchers at UNCG are dedicated to studying how our memory systems develop.  We study how children think and learn, and how the brain areas that support memory develop in infancy, childhood and adolescence.  Below we briefly describe some strategies parents/guardians can employ to promote the development of strong memory systems in children, based from research findings.

1) Provide a healthful, nutritious diet and encourage physical activity.  It has been shown that the brain is sensitive to good nutrition and health.  This is especially critical during pregnancy and in the child’s first few years of life, when the brain is rapidly changing.  But even after this period, good nutrition and health remains important.  New research suggests that certain areas of the brain continue to develop later than previously believed.  For example, brain regions that support memory (hippocampus and prefrontal cortex) show changes even into late childhood and adolescence.

2) Speak with pre-school and school-aged children often about their day and other past events. Research has shown that parent-child conversations have an impact on memory development. Ask questions and provide narrative structure when talking about memories of past events with your child. Carefully listen to your child as they report on past memories, while also expanding on the events during the conversation, and providing comments that confirm or negate the child’s statement (e.g., “That’s right”, “Yes”, “No”).  It has been shown that parents who more often use this type of “reminiscing” style have children who remember past events better than those whose parents were less elaborative.

3) For pre-verbal infants and toddlers, memory games are a fun way to engage with children and also help them learn.  For example, you can play the “imitate me” game:  perform multiple simple actions using different objects, and then give the objects to your infant (immediately or after a delay) and encourage them to do the actions just like you did in the same order.  This is a method that researchers often use to test memory in infants who can’t tell us what they remember. As infants grow, they remember more actions, remember more actions in the correct temporal order, and remember for longer and longer delays. Infants and children are fascinating and remarkable learners!

                        -- Dr. Jeni Pathman, MDLaB Director, Psychology Department, UNCG

The Memory Development (MDLaB: Memory Development Learning and Brain) and the DUCK Lab (DUCK: Development and Understanding of Children's Knowledge) are a non-profit research center dedicated to the study of children’s cognitive and social development.  We are located in the Eberhart Building at University of North Carolina Greensboro. We are thankful to the parents and families who support our research.

For more information about the research center, please visit previous GSOFamilies post (http://www.gsofamilies.com/2014/07/uncg-memory-development-lab-and-duck.html).  We can be reached at childdev@uncg.edu or 336-256-0048.

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