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Recollection improves with age: children’s and adults’ accounts of their childhood experiences

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Since the time of Freud, psychologists have drawn conclusions about children’s memory on the basis of retrospective research with adults. Here, we turn the tables by examining what prospective studies with children and adolescents can tell us about the retrospective memory accounts provided by adults. Adults were interviewed about recent events and events from different points during their childhood (Age 5, Age 10) and early adolescence (Age 13). Children (5- and 8- to 9-year-olds) and young adolescents (12- to 13-year-olds) were interviewed about recent events. When matched for age at the time of encoding, adults recalled more about the target events than did 5-year-olds, even though the retention interval for adults was substantially longer. We conclude that retrospective studies with adults may lead researchers to overestimate the content of the early childhood memories that survive. We discuss the theoretical implications of these findings for an understanding of memory development and the practical implications for the interpretation of adults’ retrospective accounts in the courtroom.
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Keywords: Children; adults; autobiographical memory; childhood amnesia; memory development

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Psychology Department, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

Publication date: January 2, 2019

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