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A Conditioning Analysis of Infant Memory

How Do We Know They Know What We Know They Knew?
  • Jeffrey W. Fagen
  • Carolyn K. Rovee-Collier

Abstract

In one of the most famous quotations in the field of developmental psychology, William James (1890) wrote that the world of the infant “is one great blooming, buzzing confusion” (p. 488). In the ensuing 90 years investigators have proved James two-thirds correct, that is, the world of the infant is indeed blooming and buzzing; it is not, however, one of confusion. Nowhere is this truth more evident than in the area of infant learning (Lipsitt, 1971). In spite of the fact, however, that demonstrations of learning are ex post facto demonstrations of memory (Bolles, 1976), research on infant memorial abilities has lagged far behind that on infant learning. We believe that this situation has resulted from a paradigmatic error. Infant memory researchers have overlooked the logical relation between learning and memory, focusing almost exclusively on the encoding and storage of information that may have no present relevance for the infant (e.g., stimuli that lack signal value; cf. Thorpe, 1963) instead of on the subsequent utility of that which has previously been acquired. Underlying this research has been an allegiance to a multistore view of memory where information is believed to reside briefly (≤30 seconds) in a short-term memory store before either its transfer to a long-term store or its complete loss from the system. As a result, investigators of infant memory have found it convenient to use brief (2 to 8 minutes) single sessions to study long-term memory and have attributed performance deficits under these conditions to memory deficits arising from the permanent loss of information during either encoding, short-term storage, or transfer (Cohen & Gelber, 1975; Fagan, 1977; Olson, 1976; Werner & Perlmutter, 1979). In short, they have echoed the ancient biblical view that many are called but few are chosen: Only a small portion of the information in the short-term store is transferred to long-term memory; the rest is irrevocably lost.

Keywords

Retention Interval Retention Test Conditioning Analysis Experimental Child Psychology Memory Attribute 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeffrey W. Fagen
    • 1
  • Carolyn K. Rovee-Collier
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologySt. John’s UniversityJamaicaUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyRutgers UniversityNew BrunswickUSA

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