Nonspecific verbal cues alleviate forgetting by young children


  • 1

     This latter interpretation is analogous to the standard definition of forgetting in the mobile conjugate reinforcement paradigm. That is, although infants’ kick rate returns to baseline over a delay, the target memory remains available and is accessible to retrieval under some conditions (for review, see Rovee-Collier & Hayne, 1987)

  • 2

     Although Usher and Neisser's (1993) paper is often cited as evidence that the boundary of childhood amnesia is lower than 3–4 years, the coding of the memories in that study was extremely lenient and did not correct for guessing (Loftus, 1993).

Address for correspondence: Kirstie Morgan, Department of Psychology, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand; e-mail:


Verbal reminders play a pervasive role in memory retrieval by human adults. In fact, relatively nonspecific verbal information (e.g. ‘Remember the last time we ate at that restaurant?’) will often cue vivid recollections of a past event even when presented outside the original encoding context. Although research has shown that memory retrieval by young children can be initiated by physical cues and by highly specific verbal cues, the effect of less specific verbal cues is not known. Using a Visual Recognition Memory (VRM) procedure, we examined the effect of nonspecific verbal cues on memory retrieval by 4-year-old children. Our findings showed that nonspecific verbal cues were as effective as highly specific nonverbal cues in facilitating memory retrieval after a 2-week delay. We conclude that, at least by 4 years of age, children are able to use nonspecific verbal reminders to cue memory retrieval, and that the VRM paradigm may be particularly valuable in examining the age at which this initially occurs.