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Q J Exp Psychol (Hove). 2015;68(9):1871-94. doi: 10.1080/17470218.2014.995110. Epub 2015 Feb 16.

What can we learn about immediate memory from the development of children's free recall?

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a School of Experimental Psychology , University of Bristol , Bristol , UK.


We ask the question: Which aspects of immediate memory performance improve with age? In two studies, we reexamine the widely held view that primary memory capacity estimates derived from children's immediate free recall are age invariant. This was done by assessing children's immediate free-recall accuracy while also measuring the order in which they elected to recall items (Experiment 1) and by encouraging children to begin free recall with items from towards the end of the presented list (Experiment 2). Across samples aged between 5 and 8 years we replicated the previously reported age-related changes in free-recall serial position functions when aggregated across all trials of the standard task, including an absence of age differences in the recency portion of this curve. However, we also show that this does not reflect the fact that primary memory capacity is constant across age. Instead, when we incorporate order of report information, clear age differences are evident in the recall of list-final items that are output at the start of a participant's response. In addition, the total amount that individuals recalled varied little across different types of free-recall tasks. These findings have clear implications for the use of immediate free recall as a means of providing potential indices of primary memory capacity and in the study of the development of immediate memory.


Free recall; Immediate memory development; Primary memory

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