Neural Basis of Memory Flexibility in Infancy

*Boston Children's Hospital- Division of Developmental Medicine, Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience

Young infants' memories are very context specific. As infants grow older, however, their dependence on contextual cues for retrieval diminishes and they are able to exhibit retention even when tested in a new environment (Hayne, 2004). Although well documented behaviorally, very little is known about how brain development is related to infants' ability to use their memories flexibly. This study will investigate how changes in brain response contribute to age-related changes in memory flexibility during the first year of life.

Infants will be tested using a deferred imitation paradigm developed by Hayne and colleagues (Barr, Dowden, & Hayne, 1996; Hayne Boniface, & Barr, 2000.) During the first session, infants will be shown a series of actions that can be performed using an animal hand puppet. Twenty-four hours later, infants will be tested using both ERPs and the traditional imitation test. At testing, infants will be randomly assigned to either the context-change group or the context-same group. For infants in the context-same condition, testing will occur in the same laboratory room in which the demonstration phase occurred. For infants in the context-change condition, testing will occur in a different laboratory room.

Previous research using this deferred imitation task has shown that while 12-month-old infants will imitate the actions even when they are tested in a new context, 6-month-old infants will only imitate if they are tested in the same context in which the demonstration occurred (Hayne, Boniface, & Barr, 2000). In this study, we aim to investigate the neural basis of this age-related change in memory flexibility by looking at how ERP components that are sensitive to novelty and familiarity are affected by changes in context in 6- and 12-month-old infants.