Age-Related Changes in Spreading Activation During Infancy


  • This research was supported by a grant from the Marsden Fund of the Royal Society of New Zealand and a Georgetown University International Collaborative grant. The authors thank Daisy Balcombe and Marea Colombo for their help in the collection and coding of this data. Very special thanks to all the families who made this research possible.


The concept of spreading activation describes how retrieval of one memory cues retrieval of other memories that are associated with it. This study explored spreading activation in 6-, 12-, and 18-month-old infants. Infants (n = 144) learned two tasks within the same experimental session; one task, deferred imitation (DI), is typically remembered longer than the other task, visual recognition memory (VRM). At all ages, retrieval of the DI memory facilitated retrieval of the VRM memory, but the conditions under which this spreading activation occurred changed as a function of age. The implications of these findings are discussed in relation to the development of mnemonic networks during infancy and the value of studying infants for our understanding of memory more generally.