People who are in the same emotional state during a test as when they stored the information remember better what they have learned. This phenomenon, well studied in adults, is known as state-dependent memory. But what happens in early childhood?

Intrigued by the answer, psychologists from the Ruhr University in Bochum have investigated the effects of this phenomenon on the memory performance of 96 nine-month-old babies. The results are published in Child Development.

In the first phase of the investigation, they asked the parents to play animatedly with their little ones for a few minutes (animated state) or to hug them silently and read to them (calm state). Immediately afterwards, one of the researchers repeatedly performed certain actions with a hand puppet that the children observed from their mother or father’s lap. After a short 15-minute break, another good game session, well rest, took place. Some children experienced the same situation twice (play or calm); in others, on the other hand, both conditions alternated. The researcher then sat down with the puppet next to the babies.

Infants who had experienced similar learning and recall conditions (ie, who had played or rested well on both occasions) were able to reproduce almost all the actions they had previously seen with the doll (delayed imitation task). In contrast, babies who had participated in an animated and a quiet phase, on average, were not able to reproduce even one of the actions. In other words, they did not show retention if their status on encryption differed from their status on retrieval.

According to the study’s lead author Sabine Seehagen, the results suggest that, just as in adults, mood changes can prevent babies from accessing memory content. This could be one of the reasons why most adults cannot remember events that occurred before the age of three, a phenomenon known as infantile amnesia.

Anna lorenzen

Reference: «State-dependent Mmemory in infants». Sabine Seehagen et al. published online in Child Development, August 2020.