7 month-old infants use chunking to increase working memory capacity


Infant working memory quickly develops over the first year of life to reach the adult capacity of 3-4 items (Luck & Vogel, 1997, Ross-Sheehy et al., 2003). However, both adults and 14 month-olds can overcome this limit by chunking arrays into sets using spatial, perceptual and conceptual cues (Cowan et al., 2004; Feigenson & Halberda, 2004, 2008). Using a violation-of-expectation paradigm with 7 month-old infants whose WM capacity is less than 3 (Exp1), we asked whether chunking is available earlier in development before adult-like capacity is reached. Infants were unable to chunk when presented with spatiotemporal or featural grouping cues alone (Expts 2-4), but successfully chunked 3 object arrays when spatiotemporal and featural grouping cues redundantly specified chunks within the larger array (Expts 5-6). These results suggest that despite some developmental improvement during infancy, chunking is a fundamental memory computation that is available for memory expansion throughout the lifespan.

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