Introduction

Over the past decade, researchers interested in memory development have pursued with exceptional vigor a variety of issues related to real world memory for personally experienced events. This kind of memory would appear to have high face validity; indeed, remembering the significant and daily events of one's life is exactly what many nonscientists think of as "remembering" (e.g., Stewart, 2004). Consistent with this, the study of memory development has always included some concern with how people recall and talk about the events of their lives (e.g., Stern & Stern, 1909/1999; Dudycha & Dudycha, 1933). Nonetheless, much of the contemporary history of research on memory development reflects a preoccupation with processes outside the domain of personal event memory. The large developmental literature focusing on topics such as strategy development, transfer, meta-memorial processes, recognition memory and laboratory-based episodic tasks is illustrative. Such work has led to rich insights about the ways that memory processes in general change across the course of childhood, but has been only tangentially relevant to autobiographical memory.

Researchers currently recognize that at the level of the brain what we refer to as "memory" really denotes numerous distinct, widely distributed cognitive processes (e.g., Squire, 1992). Functionally, these processes work together to support performance on tasks such as reasoning, learning, decision making and introspection. Indeed, memory is an integral and requisite component of most such higher-order cognitive tasks. At the same time, performance on many memory tasks draws on a variety of general intellectual processes, including perceptual and reasoning abilities (Ceci, 2003). The close bi-directional relationship between memory and other cognitive processes means that advances in understanding memory development are important to understanding cognitive development more generally. From this perspective, the implications of findings from the recent proliferation of studies focusing on personal event memory are relatively broad.

In part, the attention that developmental psychologists are currently paying to personal event memory reflects a trend in the field of memory research as a whole. As Pillemer (1998) argued, for the past century memory researchers trained in both mainstream cognitive and developmental psychology have tended to undervalue the importance of memories for single episodes occurring at one point in time. Traditionally, when considering memory for past experience, researchers have focused instead on semantic processes, associated with facts or world knowledge acquired over time, or on schematic memory of repeated episodes. Due in part to the nature of the processes under scrutiny, in much of this earlier literature event representations were assumed to be largely invariant across individuals and contexts. One benefit of recent examinations of specific event memories is the spotlight they have shone on individual and contextual differences. Although theorists have made a case for the importance of context specificity in numerous areas of memory development in the past two decades (e.g., Ceci & Leichtman, 1992), nowhere has there been a more powerful illustration of this than in the recent study of personal event memory. Context effects, particularly those related to cultural differences, feature prominently in the studies reviewed in this chapter. The overriding theme of the chapter is how individuals remember personally experienced events that occur early in their lives.

What are the characteristics of adults' memories of the years of infancy and childhood? This question has received renewed attention from developmental psychologists over the past 15 years. Most adults find it difficult to recall experiences from the earliest years of childhood, in particular from before age 4. This difficulty, termed childhood amnesia, varies extensively between individuals and populations in ways that researchers have just begun to fully document. Most American adults report having some specific childhood memories from after age 4, and some have detailed memories from even the earliest years of life. In contrast, other individuals report being unable to remember any specific experiences from childhood at all, even after extensive prompting. The opening excerpt of this chapter, taken from an interview with a rural Indian participant, provides a modal example of this latter case. In the participant's village, only a small fraction of adults reported remembering any specific event that dated from the childhood years (Leichtman, Bhogle, Sankaranarayanan, & Hobeika, 2003).

What accounts for childhood amnesia and its variations? This chapter highlights both maturational and experiential factors. Four distinct areas of developmental research on memory implicate both kinds of factors in adult recollection of childhood events.

First, studies of long-term memory during infancy and the earliest childhood years have identified characteristics of the early memory system that affect later event recall. These studies have demonstrated an ontogenetic shift from implicit to explicit event memories, and have begun to identify more precisely than ever before the timing of emergent long- term memory competencies. Conceptual strides have been made over the past few years as researchers have been able to connect such developments with underlying shifts in brain processing.

Second, research on children's event memory narratives represents a separate topic in early memory development. A significant new body of research has been directed at the issue of cultural differences in narrative, and this has resulted in a reconsideration of how culturally transmitted narrative styles affect memory. Currently, investigators are amassing much new evidence relevant to this topic. For example, researchers have begun to document the developmental trajectory of cultural differences and explore the multiple pathways through which culture may influence children's memory narratives.

Third, and closely connected with investigations of children's event memories, are direct investigations of adults' memories of childhood events. Such studies have also flourished recently and have revealed social environment and family structure variations that influence whether and in what form childhood events are remembered over the long term. Again, the cultural perspective of the most current work has been particularly fruitful.

Fourth, findings on children's suggestibility have demonstrated a pertinent relationship between source monitoring abilities and event memories. These results have suggested that frontal lobe immaturity, which appears to be related to children's source monitoring problems, also may contribute to childhood amnesia. Work in this area continues to progress, underscoring the important connections between memory and broader cognitive developments.

This chapter provides a selective review of studies in each area, with an eye toward implications for childhood amnesia and broader conceptions of long-term memory.

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