Developmental Science

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Volume 21 Issue 2 (March 2018), Pages

The eye of the retriever: developing episodic memory mechanisms in preverbal infants assessed through pupil dilation


Studying memory in infants can be challenging, as they cannot express their subjective recollection verbally. In this study we use a novel method with which we can assess episodic recognition memory through pupillometry, using identical procedures and stimuli for infants and adults. In three experiments of 4‐ and 7‐month‐old infants, and adults we show that the adult pupillary response is larger to previously seen than to never seen items (old/new effect). Pupil dilations index subjective memory experience in adults, producing distinct pupil dilations to items judged as remembered, familiar, and new, regardless of actual previous exposure (Experiment 1). Seven‐month‐old infants demonstrate a clear pupillary old/new effect, very similar to that of adults (Experiment 2), whereas 4‐month‐olds do not demonstrate such an effect (Experiment 3). Our findings suggest that the mnemonic mechanisms that serve infants' and adults' episodic recognition memory are more similar than previously asserted: they are not fully developed at 4 months of age but that there is contiguity in human episodic memory development from 7 months of age.

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