Cognitive Development, Part VII: Memory

The seventh chapter of Flavell, Miller, & Miller’s Cognitive Development, entitled “Memory,” has the broadest implications yet. From broad topics like intelligence and genetics, to foreshadowing an experiment I plan to conduct in the next year, this chapter was fascinating.

I found it fascinating that later intelligence can be predicted from habituation speed (Bornstein & Sigman, 1986). I wonder if this is also true of adults? I also wonder what the heritability of this behavior is, especially as compared to the heritability of general intelligence, where respectable estimates range from .86 (Posthuma, 2002) to half that figure (Devlin, Daniels, & Roader, 1997)?


Still, Flavell, Miller, & Miller’s blindness to ancestry as an independent variable, even in the discussion, is aggravating. Their non-view of group-level genetic diversity, reminiscent of nothing so much as the Victorians’ non-view of sex, continues with considering culture but not race as factors in difference between Korean and American mother-to-infant speech (Muellen & Yi, 1995) or differences in acquiring number counting between Chinese and American children (Geary, Fan, Bow-Thomas, & Siegler, 1993).

The blinders when it comes to race are all the more frustrating, because when it comes to intelligence or behavior the authors are much less absolutist. For instance, reporting the finding that “Children of repetitive mothers tend to recall less and have less organized memories” the authors conclude that “the mother’s style is ‘pass on’ to the child” (242, abstracted from Reese, Haden, & Fivush, 1993). Indeed, that is exactly what the findings show. Is the behavior passed on environmentally, genetically, or as an interaction? Who knows? That is the proper way to do science. (In the context of the above, it would be interesting to see if beginning of numeracy or even finger-tapping rates (Guttentag, 1984) are heritable. I would assume they were.)

Also interesting was the section on eyewitness testimony. There’s good reason to be skeptical of child testimony (Sagan, 1997). Indeed, one “survivor” even believed he had been eaten alive (Goodman, Aman, & Hirschman, 1987)! Likewise, children’s increased likelihood to change their answers under repeated questioning (Cassel, Roebers, & Bjorklund, 1996) acalls into question how much of standard procedure can even be used with question. One wonders if the fact that “children with higher theory-of-mind scores were less likely to be misled” implies that childhood reliability varies with intelligence. In other words, does the link between childhood abuse and cognitive issues like short-term memory loss (Bremner, et al., 1995) go both ways?

I was happy where the chapter noted that learning skills takes time because performing then can be “rather effortful, challenging, and attention demanding as an act in itself for young children” (251, summarizing Guttentag, 1997). This emphasizes that skills are just narrow domains that operate under the same rule as creativity anywhere else: that is, through time and purposeful practice (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996; Ross, 2006). Considering the children are indeed “universal novices” (257, quoting Brown & DeLoache, 1978), the purpose of childhood education should be to teach expertise in those skills that do not come naturally and that they actually need. Instead, too many schools focus on “comprehension,” building up loose semantic nets that do not help much. Expertise counts for more than learning-speed (Schneider et al, 1989), that is intelligence, so schools should focus on building that .

To end this paper, I enjoyed the section on megacognitive experiences that began on page 264. In my own research, I’ve enjoyed discovering the limits of metaknowledge among students, particularly knowledge of their own behaviors. With regards to a wider theme of unexpectedly competent babies and unexpectedly incompetent late adolescents, it is interesting that even two year olds experience “feelings of knowing (DeLoache & Brown, 1984) about facts in the past, while in my studies I found 19 year olds not knowing what they will do in the future.


Cognitive Development, a tdaxp series
1. Introduction
2. Infant Perception
3. Infant Cognition
4. Representation and Concepts
5. Reasoning and Problem Solving
6. Social Cognition
7. Memory
8. Language
9. Questions and Problems
10. Bibliography

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