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Poster F60

Children's darting (not diffuse) attentional spotlight shapes the content of their memories

Poster Session F - Tuesday, April 16, 2024, 8:00 – 10:00 am EDT, Sheraton Hall ABC

Alexandra Decker1 (, Katherine Duncan2, Amy Finn2; 1MIT, 2University of Toronto

Children are remarkable learners, often surpassing adults in domains like language learning. These learning strengths are surprising given children’s underdeveloped episodic memory abilities. One explanation is that children possess a “broader attentional spotlight” than adults, enabling them to form episodic memories for both goal-relevant and irrelevant information, which could prove useful when goals shift. However, an alternative explanation is that children’s focus simply darts more frequently across time between relevant and irrelevant information. To understand the dynamics of children’s selective attention and their influence on the content of children’s memories, we asked children (6-8 years old) and young adults to perform an n-back task on trial-unique, goal-relevant target images, while ignoring simultaneously presented, trial-unique distractor images. We then assessed long-term memories for both image types. We found that children’s memories were less selective for goal-relevant information than adults’. While adults remembered goal-relevant information better than children, children had marginally better memory for goal-irrelevant information. These developmental differences were mediated by children's reduced selective attention. We also discovered that children’s attentional spotlight was not “broader” in scope, but instead, darted frequently between goal-relevant and irrelevant content across learning events. Indeed, children were more likely to remember distractors on trials in which they forgot targets, suggesting children oscillated focus between targets and distractors, rather than attended to both simultaneously. These findings offer mechanistic insight into children’s unique learning abilities, highlighting how their rapidly shifting selective attention holds the key to explaining why they often remember different information than adults.

Topic Area: LONG-TERM MEMORY: Development & aging


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April 13–16  |  2024