False memories occur when people remember events in a way that diverges from the way the events actually happened. Both children and adults can be subject to false memories, but adults develop a number of strategies to limit these errors. One strategy involves making use of expectations about how vivid and distinctive particular sorts of memories should be (i.e., distinctiveness strategy). Another strategy involves making use of knowledge that memory of one event sometimes implies that another event did not happen (i.e., logical inconsistency strategy). Although these memory editing strategies are well developed in adults, they are less developed in children. The purpose of the planned research is to understand how children develop these skills.  In the first two experiments, children and adults will study lists made up of both pictures and words.  Because pictures tend to produce more vivid memories than words, a participant using the expected distinctiveness strategy should have fewer false memories for pictures. To measure the use of the logical inconsistency strategy, some participants will study lists where each item is presented as either a picture or a word, but never in both formats. This will allow them to use the logical inconsistency strategy (e.g., "I know it was not a picture because it was a word").  Other participants will study lists that include some items that are presented as pictures, some items that are presented as words, and some items that are presented as both pictures and words ? making the logical inconsistency strategy invalid. To see if strategy use is related to frontal lobe development, participants will complete a standard neurological test battery that measures frontal lobe function (Experiment 1-3). To see if strategy use is learned through experience, some participants engage in multiple study test trials to see if this experience increases strategy use (Experiment 2). The final year of the project will examine if these strategies are used by children in situations that mimic the challenges faced by actual child witnesses (Experiment 3).  

A number of high profile cases in the 1980s and 1990s raised public concern about whether children sometimes falsely remember events, especially after suggestive questioning. In these and other contexts, the accuracy of children's memory can be of vital importance. Part of the puzzle involves understanding why children are less able to avoid false memories than adults. A science based understanding of strategy development in children could produce an immediate impact in these and other cases. The research we plan on conducting may improve methods for interviewing children and may help us understand the situations where children are most likely to fall prey to false memories. The research will also help determine if there are individual differences between children which may make some children more prone to memory errors than others. Finally, the research may have important educational implications.  If the strategies being investigated are learned through experience, the planned research may result in educational approaches that help children to learn these strategies more efficiently. In fact, as part of the investigators' plan to share the results of this research, they intend to hold annual "learning about learning" workshops with local school districts. These workshops will allow the investigators to share with educators the results of the research and will also allow the researchers to gain insights from the first hand experiences educators have helping children to learn.

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University of Arkansas at Fayetteville
United States
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