Place: 4274 Chamberlin Hall (Refreshments will be served)
Speaker: Vanessa Simmering, UW Department of Psychology
Abstract: For over a century, developmental psychologists have documented how visuospatial memory improves from infancy through early childhood. A variety of theories have been proposed to account for these improvements, with most addressing only a small developmental period and/or single behavioral task, making these theories difficult to generalize. For example, Piaget attributed changes between 8 and 12 months in infants' errors in a search task to the acquisition of object permanence, but infants between 4 and 16 months show other improvements in the durability and capacity of memory, in both search and looking tasks, that cannot be explained by this theory. The goal of my research program is to advance a comprehensive theory of visuospatial memory development to explain multiple improvements across tasks and age groups. My colleagues and I have proposed a dynamic systems account of memory development which emphasizes the processes that underlie the formation, maintenance, and use of memory representations across behavioral contexts. By formalizing this theory in a dynamic neural field model, my research shows that a host of developmental improvements in memory can emerge through a common change in the dynamic stability of the memory system. I will present empirical evidence that memory capacity is not fixed but varies with task contexts. Furthermore, my model simulations predicted that different task structures will yield inconsistent capacity estimates within the same group of participants while still showing correlations in performance across these tasks. These results suggest that a full explanation of visuospatial memory development will require understanding how memory functions in the moment of the task at hand.