Episodic memory plays an integral role in human cognitive functioning and overall life success. Thus, proper emergence of episodic memory is a crucial part of typical development. Early childhood marks a time window in which gains in episodic memory are greatest. The goal of this project is to identify and characterize the component cognitive processes of episodic memory, their relative developmental trajectories, and the structural connectivity of memory neural network in young children. In service of this goal, three studies with specific, achievable objectives are proposed. [First, we will examine pattern separation and relational memory ? both have been theorized to be cornerstone processes of episodic memory ? in one task to assess their relative contribution to episodic memory development. Second, we integrate both processes by examining the developmental changes of relational memory as a function of pattern separation demand for contexts.] Third, we will relate episodic memory improvements to age-related differences in brain structural connectivity between regions involved in episodic memory. We hypothesize that pattern separation as well as relational memory develops significantly with age and will account for unique variances in episodic memory performance. We also hypothesize that gains in episodic memory during this age window is accompanied by age-related differences in the structural connectivity of memory neural network. This project will help inform prevention and intervention by targeting the appropriate component cognitive processes involved in various physical and mental health conditions in which episodic memory is compromised.
Understanding typical development of episodic memory facilitates our understanding of the conditions in which episodic memory goes awry. This project will combine behavioral and neuroimaging methods to identify and characterize the developmental changes of the component cognitive processes of episodic memory, and link these behavioral changes to the brain maturation of structural connectivity during early childhood. The findings from these studies will lead to a better theoretical framework that will ground effective development and for prevention and intervention methods targeting at- risk populations who experience episodic memory impairments.