Emergence of the Self-reference Effect in Episodic Memory during Early Childhood
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The self-reference effect in memory refers to the finding that performance on tests of episodic memory is better when information is encoded in relation to the self than when it is encoded in relation to another person. There have been many demonstrations of the self-reference effect in adults’ memory, but its emergence in children’s memory in less well understood. In this chapter we report three experiments in which we employed a self-reference paradigm to examine episodic memory in 4- to 6-year-old children. In the encoding phases of the three experiments, the items to be remembered were pictures of familiar objects which were presented along with a photo of the child’s own face (selfreference condition) or a photo of another child’s face (other-reference condition). In the test phase, memory for the items was assessed using free recall in Experiments 1 and 3, and recognition in Experiment 2. Memory for the encoding context (self versus other) was also assessed in the test phases of the three experiments using a 2-alternative forced choice task. Memory for the encoding context was tested for correctly recalled items in Experiment 1, and for correctly recognised items in Experiment 2. In Experiment 3, it was assessed for all items presented at encoding, irrespective of whether they were correctly recalled. The findings revealed significant self-reference effects on memory for the encoding context in all three experiments. That is, children were more accurate in identifying the encoding contexts in which photos of themselves rather than another child had been presented. The self-reference effect on memory for encoding context did not vary with age, indicating that 4-year-olds benefited as much from self-referent encoding as 5- and 6-year-olds did. The self-reference effect on item memory was not significant in any experiment. That is, children’s recall and recognition of items did not differ when the items were encoded in relation to themselves as compared to another child. These findings extend our understanding of memory for encoding context and the role of the self in the development of episodic memory.
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