Memory structure changes with age

Children, adolescents and adults have different memories, and it’s not just that adults remember more. With age, the brain begins to operate differently with the data stored in it, and these differences can be seen, for example, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which shows which areas of the brain are active at the moment.

Employees University of Texas at Austin, The University of Toronto and Loyola University in Chicago conducted an experiment in which several dozen children, adolescents and adults participated, the age range among them ranged from 7 to 30 years. They were placed in an fMRI scanner and pictures with different objects were shown. These objects were in one way or another related to each other, but never appeared together in the same picture. The participants in the experiment had to conclude which connections unite the objects that are shown to them.

To understand what is at stake, let’s imagine a kindergarten, children and their parents. Suppose that in the morning the child is brought to kindergarten by a certain young woman, and in the evening by a certain young man. Seeing in turn two adults with one child, we conclude that they are in a close relationship, that we have seen a husband and wife (or just a couple), and that they are the mother and father of this child. We draw this conclusion despite the fact that before our eyes there was no whole family together. We made a conclusion in our minds by comparing two pictures in our own memory: a child with a woman and a child with a man.

In general, both children, adolescents and adults in this case will come to the same conclusion, however, as stated in the article in Nature Human Behaviour, the brain works differently here. In adults, the connection between objects never seen together is retained as a separate memory. In children, the connections between the regions of the brain that remember both objects do not work as well as in adults. Therefore, they have, as it were, two memory cells that almost do not know about each other, and when asked how two objects are connected, children each time remember two pieces of information and re-think in their minds about how these objects relate to each other. …

In adolescents, automatic inferences about connections between objects are even more difficult. When the adolescent brain sees successively two objects connected through the third (that is, first the mother with the child, then the father with the child), then the second information (father with the child) suppresses the first – the brain does not just forget what happened before, but perceives that and other as very different information. In order for the adolescent brain to retain the memory that these two adults are the parents of the child, they need to be shown to him together. That is, you should not rely on speculative conclusions, information should be collected together here and now. Therefore, according to the authors of the work, adolescents are more eager to get new impressions from the real world than to travel through the halls of their own minds.

The brain is not formed instantly, and it has to operate on data using the tools that it has at the moment. While the connections between the centers of higher cognitive processes (for example, between the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex of the hemispheres) are not yet fully formed, he compares the incoming information as best he can, either using repeated mental procedures or relying on new impressions from the outside. The new data will not only help to better understand how our memory behaves throughout life, but also come in handy in the design of more effective and differentiated educational programs.

Source: Автономная некоммерческая организация "Редакция журнала «Наука и жизнь»" by

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