MU psychology research may help teachers understand children's memory skills

Do young children have better memories than older children who have learned to curb their inhibitions? Manchester University faculty and student researchers will use a Psi Chi national psychology honor society grant to find out.

“The results of our study could influence how children are educated,” says Ashleigh Maxcey-Richard, assistant professor of psychology. She received the $2,000 grant to test children in kindergarten through second grade at Manchester Elementary School.

To oversimplify the experiment: The Manchester student-faculty researchers will electronically show photographs to elementary students. Then they’ll have kids practice remembering a subset of those images. Typically, adults forget (inhibit) images they did not practice remembering.

Children have an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for inhibition. If the children in the study remember the first images better than the adults, it would indicate that lower inhibition actually helps memory, Maxcey-Richard says.

MU juniors and seniors in the Cognitive lab will join her research this fall – and get a taste of graduate-level study. Afterward, they will submit research reports in hopes of publication in professional peer-reviewed journals and will present to professional psychologists at regional conferences.

“I have been able to provide opportunities for hard-working students in my lab, thanks to the active research program in our department,” says Maxcey-Richard. “We researched the topic extensively enough to apply for this grant by running MU students through a similar paradigm last year. Now that we have that data from college-age adults, we can compare it to the data from children.”

Uninhibited children may absorb much more information than adults, potentially making their memories far superior to adult memories, says Maxcey-Richard, whose research in visual working memory is published in several psychology journals.

The psychology students also tested local residents of Peabody and Timbercrest senior living communities. Using data spanning all stages of life, MU researchers will have a complete developmental set of data to motivate future work.

Psychology is a popular major at Manchester, where graduates majoring in the field swiftly gain admission to graduate programs and find jobs.  For more about majoring in psychology at Manchester University, click here. Read more about Psi Chi and Maxcey-Richard here.

July 2013

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