Babies Remember Good Feeling-Associated Images, Study Shows

Parents who spend their time playing with and talking to their five-month-old baby may wonder whether their child remembers any of it a day later. Thanks to a new Brigham Young University (BYU) study, we now know that they at least remember the good times. The study, published in the November 2014 issue of Infant Behavior and Development, shows that babies are more likely to remember something if there is a positive emotion, or affect, that accompanies it. “People study memory in infants, they study discrimination in emotional affect, but we are the first ones to study how these emotions influence memory,” said BYU psychology professor Dr. Ross Flom, lead author of the study. Although the five-month-olds can’t talk, there are a number of different ways that researchers can analyze how the babies respond to testing treatments. In this particular study, the scientists monitored the infants’ eye movements and how long they looked at a test image. The babies were set in front of a flat paneled monitor in a closed-off partition and then exposed to a person on screen speaking to them with either a happy, neutral, or angry voice. Immediately following the emotional exposure, they were shown a geometric shape. To test their memory, the researchers did follow-up tests five minutes later and again one day later. In the follow-up tests, babies were shown two side-by-side geometric shapes: a brand new one, and the original one from the study. The researchers then were able to record how many times the baby looked from one image to the next and how long they spent looking at each image. Babies’ memories didn’t improve if the shape had been paired with a negative voice, but they performed significantly better at remembering shapes attached to positive voices.
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