Cognitive Development Throughout the Lifespan

I conducted a project related to cognition with a short experiment to determine the differences between people in different age categories throughout the lifespan. The description of the project, purpose for developing it, number of participants, and result explanation follow.

I showed the participants one small and a large set of photographs with, besides the picture, words on them. I showed the sets to them on a Monday and told them I was going to ask them questions, that they needed to answer, about the sets, on Wednesday evening. I also told them I was going to show them new sets on Wednesday morning, 2 days later. On Wednesday morning, I showed the same people a different small and large set with the same characteristics. Some words were disconnected and some others were disconnected in a meaningful way. Some photographs represented ancient items and some others modern ones. An example of photographs, on both the small and the large set, was the Egyptian pyramids with the phrase “These wanders of the worlds are in Egypt, home of Cleopatra”, on it. An example of photographs I showed them, on both the small and the large set, was a bouquet of flowers with the word “ocean” on it.

The participants were a dozen of individuals randomly picked among my neighbors. I live in Los Angeles, which is a highly populated area, so it is very easy to find people everywhere. They consisted in two approximately 3 year old, two approximately 7 year old, two approximately 15 year old, another two approximately 20 year old, and four approximately 65 year old individuals.

On Wednesday evening, I asked each participant separately or individually what they remembered of the images I showed them, and I asked them, if they remembered something, how they remember it. How do people think their mind and memory work? That is shown by the experiment I conducted, which validates and reiterates what is known in this field.

Even the 3 year olds in the experiment know a small set of photographs can be remembered more easily than a large set. They, like most children, do not know how memory works. The 7 year olds in the project do not know that a meaningful phrase is easier to remember than a series of disconnected words. They, like the rest of the world’s children, are not aware of what strategies improve their memory performance; therefore they can not plan effective study strategies either.

They do not appreciate that to remember something, they and everyone else need to make an effort. The young children in this experiment kept revisiting the same information they already knew. Also they showed that they do not know when they have studied enough to remember information.

The children in the experiment, like the rest of the children, do not realize they need to make an effort to remember. However, in the debrief, once I explained to them the reason why a particular strategy helps the memory, then they wanted to use it. The children, including one of the two High School individuals (the 15 year olds), naively (and also unrealistically or optimistically, and confidently) told me they thought that by glancing at words a few times is enough to remember them correctly. Adults know that their thinking is magical thinking! Even the two college individuals overestimated, even if less than the younger kids, the accuracy (versus faultiness) of their answers. In other words, this experiment and the literature on cognition show that kids do not spontaneously use memory strategies and do not spontaneously use them effectively, and, as a result, their memory performance is poor.

The explanation of this short project experiment shows that, metamemory is correlated to and causes strategy use. Strategy use causes memory performance. Inferentially then, metamemory causes memory performance. It is important to have the time and desire to use helpful memory strategies.

The purpose of this experiment was to reiterate and reinforce then that both older and younger adults have the same knowledge about how memory works, about effective memory strategies and about readily remembered material. Both older and younger adults also monitor memory in similar ways. They equally can predict which items they can remember, they select the most difficult items that need further study, and they similarly judge their answer accuracy and how new or old an item is. Older adults though are more overconfident on memory tasks. In other words, older adults overestimate their memory performance.

To conclude, the results of this experiment showed that elders usually report their memory problems and recognize their memory gets worse with age. The stereotype about elders losing their memory may become placebo and a self-fulfilling prophecy. Consequently, three of 65 year old participants, like most elders, may not try and may stop implementing helpful memory strategies. On the other hand, the fourth 65 year old participant, like some other elders, believes in his potentials and believes in continuing education and memory development, and has high memory self-efficacy.

Thank you.

Elena Pezzini, M.S., C.P.C., A.B.D.

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