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Infants hierarchically organize memory representations


Address for correspondence: Rebecca D. Rosenberg, Department of Psychology, Denison University, Granville, OH 43023, USA; e-mail:


Throughout development, working memory is subject to capacity limits that severely constrain short-term storage. However, adults can massively expand the total amount of remembered information by grouping items into chunks. Although infants also have been shown to chunk objects in memory, little is known regarding the limits of this ability. In particular, it remains unknown whether infants can create more complex memory hierarchies, binding representations of chunks into still larger chunks in recursive fashion. Here we tested the limits of early chunking, first measuring the number of items infants can bind into a single chunk and the number of chunks infants can maintain concurrently, and then, critically, whether infants can embed chunked representations into larger units. We tested 14-month-old infants' memory for hidden objects using a manual search task in which we manipulated memory load (the number of objects infants saw hidden) and the chunking cues provided. We found that infants are limited in the number of items they can chunk and in the number of chunks they can remember. However, we also found that infants can bind representations of chunks into ‘superchunks’. These results suggest that hierarchically organizing information strongly affects working memory, starting in infancy.