226-261, 36 pages Page 1 of 9
Chapter 7: Cognitive Processes & Academic Skills
Origins of Memory
• Memory develops early, helped by causal structures
• A mobile tied to foot of a 2- to 3 month old, where kicking would
make the mobile move. Several days to a few weeks later, the
baby remembers and would still kick to make the mobile move;
however, after several more weeks they would forget. In this case,
one could remind them by making the mobile move without the
attachment, and the next day the baby would remember to kick
o Memory exists in infants as young as 2-3 months: 1) an
event from the past is remembered, 2) over the time the
event can no longer be recalled, 3) a reminder can dredge
up the memory.
• Memory improves rapidly in older infants and toddlers, recall more of what they experience and
remember it longer. When asked to remember the connection between actions and consequences,
steady growth in memory over first 18 months with retention from less than a week to 3 months.
• Children may even have autobiographical memory
Brain Development & Memory
• Development of memory linked to growth of brain regions that support memory.
• Brain structures for initial storage of information (hippocampus + amygdala) develop by 6 months.
Structure responsible for retrieving memories (frontal cortex) develops much later after 2 years.
• Once children begin to speak, memory can be tested in similar fashion to adults, and show age-related
improvement due to 2 factors:
o 1) Use of more effective strategies
o 2) Growing factual knowledge allows for better organisation of information
Strategies for Memory
• Working memory is used for briefly storing a small amount
of information, which is displaced as more, new information is
taken in. To retain information, it must be stored in the long-
• Memory strategies are techniques or activities that help
improve remembering. They may maintain info in working
memory, transfer info to long-term memory, or help retrieve
from long-term memory
• 1) Rehearsal: Repeating information that must be remembered, from 7-8 years old.
• 2) Organization: Structuring material to be remembered so that related information is placed together,
e.g. provinces close geographically are grouped together
• 3) Elaboration: Embellishing information to make it more memorable, both verbally and visually. Verbal
elaboration encouraged by asking “why” questions (“hear” in “rehearsal”), while visual elaboration
involves constructing visual images related to the material. Young children have more difficulty with visual
• 4) Chunking: Process of organizing related items into one meaningful group. This improves working
memory, allowing more items to be held concurrently. 226-261, 36 pages Page 2 of 9
• Normal working memory is 7 items, chunking allows expansion from 7 single items to 7 groups. Digit
span increases from about 4 for 5 year olds, to adult levels around 12 years
• Concept Mapping: Building a network by connecting new information to existing knowledge and ideas.
Thus with this knowledge web, there are many routes possible for recalling one item.
• As a child progresses, domain-specific knowledge develop, leads to development of specific content
areas of memory
• Metamemory: Child’s informal understanding of memory, includes diagnosing memory problems to
identify the most appropriate strategy for each, and monitoring the effectiveness of memory strategies
• As children develop, they learn more about how memory operates and develop an intuitive theory of
memory as extension of theory of mind. E.g. Learn memory is fallible, that some memory tasks are
easier than others, etc.
• Young children, being unaware of their abilities, are too optimistic – say they will remember list of 10
animals, only remember 2-3
• Metacognitive Knowledge: Knowledge and awareness of cognitive processes, develops in
elementary school years to include concepts of perception, attention, knowledge, and thinking. E.g.
Children become aware that they can both direct their attention, and have attention be captured by an
• Cognitive Self-Regulation: Important feature of metacognitive knowledge is the association between
setting and identifying goals, selecting effective strategies, monitoring accurately, and relating it to
outcomes. This is characteristic of successful students.
Knowledge & Memory
• 10 year olds may perform better than adults if they are skilled in the area, e.g. if they are skilled chess
players and the adults are novices, required to remember chess pieces on a game board – but not if
pieces are randomly distributed to positions not possible in regular play
o Thus, prior knowledge allows organization of information in meaningful patterns, making recall
easier. This knowledge typically increases with age.
o Mechanisms: myelination of pathways often activated, automatization
• Knowledge is often depicted using a knowledge network. A child’s knowledge of dogs has many
different types of associations: membership in categories (Dalmatian is a dog), properties (elephant has
a trunk), or script – a memory structure used to describe the sequence in which event occur (list of
events of dog walking)
• For younger children, networks would have fewer entries and fewer and weaker connecting links
• Although use of scripts allows easier recall by eliminating need to remember each individual activity,
knowledge can sometimes distort memory. Young children may remember a pilot as man, not a woman
as was true, because their knowledge network specifies that pilots are men.
Fuzzy Trace Theory
• Fuzzy Trace Theory (Brainerd & Reyna) states that experiences can be stored in the memory either
exactly (verbatim) or in terms of their basic meaning, usually according to schema (gist).
• Younger children are biased towards verbatim, while older children and adoelscents bias towards gist
• Older children and adults are more prone to error than younger children in remembering a list of words.
Gist commonly leads to mistakes as associated words e.g. snooze, bed, dream, often lead to the subject
to add another critical word which was not there, e.g. sleep
• Word recall increase substantially with age, but children and adults have higher error of “remembering”
by inserting the critical word which was not actually present: 53% for adults, compared to 10% for 5 year
olds 226-261, 36 pages Page 3 of 9
• Fuzzy trace theory is an example of knowledge interfering with memory, paradox where same
processes that enhance remembering can increase errors as well
• Autobiographical Memory: Memory of significant events and experiences of one’s own life. Important
in helping to construct a personal life history, and relating experiences to others to create socially shared
• Emerges in preschool years as component skills develop: memory, language, interaction with parents
and other conversation partners about personal events, and sense of self and time
• With sense of self, toddlers realize they exist independently of others, giving coherence and continuity
to experience. This allows building of a personal timeline to anchor memories and anticipate the future.
• Infantile amnesia is the inability to recall events from early life before 3 or 4. Due to limits in toddler’s
language, limited encoding, and limited sense of self. Infantile amnesia tends to be greater in men.
• Most memories are constructed from photos, hearing stories, not truly remembered – even traumatic
events like hospital stays. However, sensory memory may be present, but lack detail or ability to
• Memory can be influenced by stereotype and suggestion by authority figures; this is a common problem
in legal proceedings where a child is interviewed repeatedly or has to testify.
• Experiment to study if repeated question and hints would influence preschooler’s recall of events.
o Sam visits classes briefly, where he would greet the teacher, mention the story being read was
one of his favourites, and leave.
o 4 conditions which differed in what children were told before and after Sam’s visit. Children from
each category were interviewed after the visit every week for 4 weeks, asked to describe the visit.
o Control: No stereotypes were made and the children were interviewed neutrally.
o Stereotypes: Sam was described as nice but clumsy, then interviewed neutrally.
o Suggestions: Children were told nothing before Sam’s visit, but interviewed with misleading
suggestions that Sam had ripped a book and soiled a teddy bear when that did not occur.
o Stereotypes plus suggestions: Children were told about Sam’s clumsiness before the visit and
interviewed suggestively afterwards
o 10 weeks later, a new interviewer asked the children what had happened during Sam’s visit
• Older children were less suggestible than the younger children. % of children who claimed to have seen
Sam rip a book or soil a teddy bear were greatest in stereotype + suggestion condition (45%), followed
by suggestions condition and stereotypes condition.
• Degree of being suggestible depends on how their memory for events is probed. Without stereotypes
and suggestion, unlikely to report events that never happened. However when adults suggest that a
person is likely to behave in a certain way, and later imply that they did, pre-schoolers will go along.
• Of course, child abuse is different: direct involvement, high emotional components. More valuable to
determine suggestibility with events of stress, typically memory of physical exam by a physician.
• Preschool children especially lack source-monitoring skills where they are unsure what the source of
information they remember is. When recalling past events, they may confuse something others described
as something they experienced personally.
• Guidelines for improving the reliability of child witnesses:
o 1) Warn children that interviewers may try to trick them
o 2) Ensure interviewers evaluate alternative explanations of what happened, and use open-
ended questions like “Tell me what happened” rather than specific questions with an expected
answer 226-261, 36 pages Page 4 of9
o 3) Do not question children repeatedly on a single issue
• According to Piaget, reasoning and problem solving are progressively more sophisticated as children
develop, changing from preoperational thought to formal operational thought. However, this
underestimates young children and overestimates adolescents
Developmental Trends in Solving Problems
• As children get older they solve problems in life more often and effectively. Demonstrated by Siegler,
when children asked to solve a balancing scale with weights in varying positions on each side, asked
which side would drop down if the supporting blocks were removed – 16-17 year olds 2/3 accurate, 5-6
year olds less than 50%
• Despite this, younger children are not always inept at solving problems, and can provide many
plausible solutions. Even infants can problem solve, e.g. toy placed on cloth where toy is out of reach,
pull cloth to retrieve the toy.
• On the other hand, adolescents do not always problem solve as readily and solutions may be inefficient
or haphazard. For example, teenagers rely more upon personal experiences and ignore stronger
Features of Children’s & Adolescents’ Problem Solving
Young children fail to solve problems due to poor encoding
• Encoding Processes: Transform information in a problem into a mental representation. In the
balance-scale problem, encoding is needed to translate the instructions and problem into a
representation with the goal, number of weights, and positions.
• Young children often have incorrect or incomplete encoded representations, e.g. fail to encode position
of weight on the scale, or fail to encode diameter of containers in conservation of volume problem. In
transitive inference problems, Jon older than Dave and Dave older than Rob encoded as “Jon = OLD;
Dave = NOT OLD” and “Dave = OLD; Rob = NOT OLD” leading to conflict information.
• Encoding improves due to greater working memory capacity and knowledge, but even so most adults
still fail to encode details that may not be relevant in daily life.
Young children don’t plan ahead
• Solving complex problems requires planning and coordinating various tasks. Young children often fail to
plan, believing unrealistically they will be successful without planning, that planning may be pointless and
discouraging if they fail, and that adults will solve complex
problems for them.
Problem solving depends on both specific and general knowledge
• Knowledge of critical facts specific to the problem is usually
essential, but may also require heuristics, rules of thumb that are
useful in solving many problems. One strategy is means-ends
analysis where the difference between current and desired
situations is determined, and actions are aimed at reducing the
• In solving problem of moving each animal to its favourite food,
children rarely move an animal away from the correct food even
when it’s required temporarily because it is a “bad move” in means-ends analysis. Thus this can only be
used to solve relatively simple problems with few moves between current and desired situations –
complex problems requiring many subgoals are more difficult. 226-261, 36 pages Page 5 of 9
Variety of strategies
• Children and adolescents use several different strategies
to solve problems, not just general strategies of Piaget’s
stages. Strategies vary between and within children
• This is reflected in Siegler’s Overlapping Waves Model
of multiple strategies concurrently, over time preferring
strategies which are faster, more accurate, and take less
• Mistakes are not necessary to learn: can figure out new
approaches through discovery
• Strategy may simply involve being more methodical and
patient, compare every window in two houses to find a non-
Collaboration enhances problem-solving
• Collaboration with a parent, older child, or more knowledgeable peer is beneficial.
• Collaboration at a preschool level may fail due to lack of social and linguistic skills, and peer
collaboration may be unproductive if neither has an idea of how to proceed – useful if both invested and
Scientific Problem Solving
• Many child development researches rely on the ‘child-as-scientist’ metaphor where experiences provide
the data used by children to construct theories that capture their understanding of the world.