Methods of studying children

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The study of memory incorporates research methodologies from neuropsychology, human development and animal testing using a wide range of species. It is usually desirable to study memory in humans because we have the ability to subjectively describe experiences, and have the intellect to perform complex and indirect tests of memory. Lesion studies allow us to reduce the methods of studying children mechanisms of memory, and results from finely constructed psychological tests can help us make inferences about how memory works.

Hermann Ebbinghaus began the scientific study of human memory with this treatise On Memory is 1885. Ebbinghaus experimented on himself by testing his own ability to memorize lists of randomly arranged syllables presented at regular pace of 2. Recognition memory is the ability to judge whether or not the cued item was previously presented on the list usually with a yes or no response. This memory is akin to the type of memory used for police line-ups. The particular task described used to be called “item recognition”. Recall memory is the ability to retrieve stored information either by being cued by a particular associated item or without an associated cue.

The first is called cued recall and the second is called free recall. In cued recall the participant studies a list of paired items and then is presented one half of those pairs and must recall the associated other half. Humans are extremely dependent on memory for survival as we are dependent on our ability to identify and remember a wide range of material in order to learn and function, which is why the capability for memory is developed at a very young age. Memory in children is displayed in simpler ways than in adults due to lack of verbal communication and mental capabilities, and therefore the testing methods are similar but are modified to suit age specific abilities. An older child can provide answers to both verbal and non-verbal tests to more complex tasks in a more detailed and accurate way and therefore produce more direct data.

A well known study used to show early signs of recall memory, examines 3 month old infants behavior with mobiles. The experiment entailed tying a string on a colourful mobile to the infant’s foot, so that kicking would cause the mobile to move, pleasing the baby. Jean Piaget, a child development psychologist, conducted a study testing the cognitive and memory abilities of children around 2 years of age. These tests were conducted using objects presented to the child followed by their removal from sight. This causes very young infants to believe the object no longer exists. A child as early as 7 days old can shows signs of facial expression imitation such as tongue or lip protrusion and opening of their mouth. There is some debate as to whether this is a voluntary or reflexive action though the ability to imitate demonstrates the infants ability to encode the image and imitate it.