A Developmental Account of the Spacing Effect: Children That Forget More, Remember More

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    • 00:00

      [MUSIC PLAYING]

    • 00:10

      HALEY VLACH: OK, everyone.We're going to go ahead and get started.Welcome to Recognition One.I'm honored to be your chair todayand I'll start my chair duties by introducing myself.My name is Haley Vlach and today I'mgoing to be talking about some of the work in my labon generating a developmental account of the spacing effect.And I'll start by describing the spacingeffect which is a phenomenon that many of you

    • 00:31

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: are familiar with.The spacing effect describes the findingthat memory is enhanced when learning events are distributedin time on a space schedule rather than presentedin immediate succession on a massed schedule.And this is a highly replicable phenomenon.There are over 1,000 published studiesthat have observed a spacing effect in human memory.

    • 00:54

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: And the conclusion from this body of workis that again, spacing effects arehighly replicable but across contexts, across tasks,across timescales, and even across species.The primary theoretical focus of this body of researchhas been to outline why we observe spacing effects?And why do we observe these effects

    • 01:14

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: across tasks and timescales?And there have been many theories thathave been proposed to outline why we observe spacing effectsand I've listed just a few-- study phaseretrieval, contextual variability, consolidation,et cetera.And again, the primary question is why?In my lab, we're taking a different theoretical approach

    • 01:34

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: to examining spacing effects and in particular, we'reinterested in the origins of the spacing effect.In other words, does the spacing effect develop?And it turns out that despite there being thousandsof studies on this phenomenon, the number of studiesthat we have early on in developmentin the first few years of life is highly limited.

    • 01:56

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: And we don't know whether or not we observe the same persistenceor the same replicability in early childhoodthat we do in adulthood or with other species.And this is a really important questionbecause early on in development, the stateof the learner or children's cognitive developmentrapidly changes.

    • 02:16

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: And what we would like to know isif we see the same replicability in the spacingeffect in the context of this time periodwhere we're seeing dynamic changes in the learner.And so when we generate a developmental accountof a phenomenon, we're interested in twokey questions.We're interested in whether or notwe observe differences in performance across development.

    • 02:38

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: So do children go through a periodwhere they benefit from a massed schedule,over spaced scheduled, or do theybenefit from neither schedule?And if we do observe differences across development, why?What is the mechanism that's develop--that's causing these developmental changesor changes in performance across this phenomenon?

    • 02:59

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: And so again, my lab is really focused on figuring outthe origins of this phenomenon.And so we started to chip away at these big questionsin this study.And research question one in this experimentis well, do we observe individual differencesin the degree to which children are benefitingfrom a massed schedule, a spaced schedule or maybe

    • 03:20

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: neither schedule.And our hypothesis is that yes, weare going to observe striking individual differencesin children.And the reason is that if we do lookat the small body of literature that exists,we see very conflicting findings sometimes.Even in my own body of research Ihave discovered that in some conditions

    • 03:40

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: children observe a massing effect, and in other conditionsthey observe a spacing effect.And again, we don't have a theory as to why this might be.The second research question is if wedo observe the predicted individual differences, what'sthe mechanism?Why do we observe that some children benefitfrom a spaced schedule, some benefitfrom a massed schedule, et cetera.

    • 04:02

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: And to take a first stab at the mechanism question,we took inspiration from study phase retrieval theoriesand we examine children's memory abilitiesfor the intervals between spaced presentations--which is a short term memory timescale in this study--and children's memory abilities for the retentioninterval, which is a long term memory timescale in this study.

    • 04:23

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: So we're examining whether or notindividual differences in these abilitiescontribute to individual differencesin massed and spaced learning.The participants in the study were 99 preschool aged childrenwith a mean age of 50 months.The range was about 2 and 1/2 yearsof age up to five years of age.And we chose this period of development

    • 04:43

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: again because we see a wide range of memory abilitiesduring this period of life, but we alsosee a wide array of cognitive development changesacross the board.And so this is really a target ageto see if this phenomenon holds updespite radical changes in the state of the learner.Children were presented with three experimental tasks--

    • 05:04

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: a massed and spaced learning task, a short-term memory task,and a long-term memory task.I'm going to describe each of these tasks for you now.The first task is the massed and spaced learning taskand children were presented with six massed items and spi-- sixspaced items.And items were presented to childrenin massed and spaced blocks.

    • 05:26

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: And each item was presented five times, either within a blockif it was a massed item, or five times across blocksif it was a spaced item.So for instance, if you look at the figure demonstrated herethe child might be presented with a massed blockwith a purple alien that you see here.

    • 05:47

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: And the massed item would be presentedin immediate succession and each itemwas presented for four seconds.So four seconds they see this alien and thenanother four seconds they see the same alienand so on and so forth.And I want to contrast this with the items in the space block.In this block, an item would pres--be presented once instead of five times in a row,

    • 06:09

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: but the items are positioned in the same spotin each spaced block of the experiment.And what this generates is an equal amountof time between each spaced item in the experiment.So there are 10 interleaved itemsbetween each spaced items, which because each learningpresentation is 4 seconds in duration,

    • 06:29

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: that leads to being 40 seconds between each spaced item.And the way that these items were presented to childrenis they were paired with a novel label.So the experimenter would say to the child, "Look!See the wug."And if it was a massed item, againthe experimenter would say, "Look!See the wug."

    • 06:49

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: Contrast that with the spaced block,the experimenter would say, "Look!See the dax."And then on the second spaced item, because it's a new item,there would be a new novel name.Look!It's the fep.And the presentations occurred in immediate successionuntil all of the massed and spaced itemshad been presented to children.

    • 07:10

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: After the learning phase there was a retention interval,which was a five minute delay.And during this time, children played with unrelated tasksjust to keep them attentive and sitting at the table.So these would be things like Play-Doh,putting stickers on paper, activitiesthat children enjoy but are not relatedto the massed and spaced learning task.

    • 07:31

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: The experimenter also did not talk about the taskduring this time.After the five minute delay, childrenwere presented with a series of recognition memory trialswhere they be presented we three aliens,and the experimenter would ask the child,"Can you point to the wug?"And it was the child's job to respondby pointing to one of the three items presented during the test

    • 07:54

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: trial.And each item that was presented during learningwas tested once.So because there were six massed itemsand spi-- six spaced items.There were a total of 12 test trials.The next task I'm going to describe-- and all of thesewere presented in random order-- is a short-term memory task.In the short-term memory task what happened is

    • 08:15

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: children were also presented with sim-- similar stimuli.However, these were novel.They were not presented in the other two tasks of the study.And each of 10 aliens was presented once.And again, the 10 items were labeled with a novel label,so look at the fep, look at the dax, et cetera.

    • 08:35

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: And the reason for choosing 10 itemsis this is the number of items thatwere pro-- co-presented in the massed and spaced learningtask between each spaced item.So this is a measurement of children's memory abilitiesor the ability to pertain one itemin between the spaced items in the massed and spaced learningtask.

    • 08:55

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: And in order to ensure that therewas a 40 minute delay on each item,the testing was immediate.So the first test trial was immediatelyafter the last learning trial and each test itemlasted four seconds.And again, the testing procedure was exactlythe same as the massed and spaced learning taskwhere children were required to recognize an alien based

    • 09:18

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: on responding to the question, which one is the fep?Finally, there was a long-term term memory taskwhich was exactly the same as the short-term term memorytask, except for the test delay was five minutes.And again, we wanted a measurementof children's memory abilities for the retention intervaland so that's why we chose a five minute

    • 09:38

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: delay for this task.How well are children at remembering one itemafter a five minute delay?I'm going to start with the resultsby presenting the descriptive statisticsand what you're seeing here are the means, standard deviation,and range for the critical measures in this study,children's age in months-- and again,

    • 10:00

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: we see the same age range that I presented earlier--and their performance on the short-term memoryand long-term term memory massed learning, spaced learning.And then we created a new variable called massed vs.spaced, which you can think of as a different score wherewe took the spaced performance and we subtractedthe massed performance.And this is a ma-- a measure of the magnitude

    • 10:22

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: of the spacing effect or the degreeto which children benefited from a spaced scheduleover a massed schedule.And the numbers aren't particularlyimportant but the key points that I want you to get outof these descriptive statistics isthat per-- children's performancewas above chance on all tasks and all presentation schedules,such as massed and spaced, and we also

    • 10:44

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: observed a significant spacing effect.So on the group level, children benefitedfrom the ska-- spaced schedule to a greater degreethan they did a massed schedule.The next data that I'm going to showyou are the inner correlations for these variablesand as you can see most everythingwas correlated with everything, which is to be expected.

    • 11:05

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: As children get older, we expect that their short-term memoryand their long-term memory are going to improve.We also expect that they are goingto get better at cognitive tasks, generally speaking.So age was correlated with massed learningand spaced learning.However, interestingly it's the last rowthat I want you to focus on because what we don't see here

    • 11:26

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: is a correlation between age and the magnitudeof the spacing effect.The variable that we see related to the magnitude of the spacingeffect is long-term memory.And in particular, there's a negative correlation.So children that are forgetting more in their long-term memoryare demonstrating the largest benefit from a spaced schedule.

    • 11:48

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: And even when we control for age and short-term memoryabilities, we observe a similar relation.And so that statistic that you'reseeing at the bottom of the slideis the correlation that we observed even when controllingfor those two other variables.The key result that we can take home from thisis that faster forgetting in long-term memory

    • 12:09

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: is associated with the degree to which children are benefitingfrom a spaced schedule.And what I've put up on the screen hereis a characterization of what might be happeningto explain this finding.So what you're seeing here as a diagram of massed presentationsand spaced presentations, and thisis often how these schedules are presented

    • 12:32

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: and they're presented in terms of forgetting curves,so those are the lines that you're seeing.And what I really want you to pay attention toare the last forgetting curves that pertain to the retentioninterval.And what we hypothesize is happeningis that children who have lower long-term memory abilitiesrapidly forget the massed items.

    • 12:53

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: And because of that, because of the faster forgetting,the spaced learning schedule forgettingcurve that emerges across long-term memoryis higher than the massed forgetting curve.And what this generates is the spacing effect.It's easier to retrieve items thatare spaced rather than massed.And what I'm going to show you now is the exact same figure

    • 13:15

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: but these are for children who have perhapsmedium to higher long-term memory abilities.And the only difference between the low memory abilityand the high memory ability kids is the degree to which they'reforgetting the massed items.And what you'll see in this second panelis that the massed forgetting getting curved is not as fast.

    • 13:36

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: And what happens is that massed and spaced is notdiffer-- differing in the forgetting curveand therefore we are not observing a spacingeffect with these children.The next data that I want to presentare individual differences.So we categorize children based on their massed

    • 13:56

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: vs. spaced learning performance and we based these categorieson whether they've benefited from neither schedule,so they had the same performance on each schedule, childrenthat had higher performance on the massed itemsand children that had higher performanceon the spaced items.And what you can see is that there

    • 14:17

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: are clear groups of children who havea different pattern of benefit or no benefitfrom these learning schedules.And in fact, less than 50% of the childrenin this experiment within their own performancebenefited from a spaced schedule.So what this is showing is that thereare striking individual differences

    • 14:38

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: in children in what sort of schedulethey're benefiting from.The next set of analyses was to look at whether or notwe observe that there are differences in memory abilitiesor age or other variables between these groups.And we actually did not find that many significantdifferences and so I'm going to highlightthe significant differences that we did find.

    • 14:59

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: We found that the magnitude of the spacing effectwas larger than the magnitude of the massing effect.Another way of saying that is the spacers benefitedfrom the spaced schedule to a greater degree than the massersbenefited from the massed schedule.Long-term memory abilities were alsoassociated with the magnitude of the spacing effectwithin the spacers group.

    • 15:21

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: However, if we look at the massers groupor the neither group, we did not observe a similar phenomenon.So we didn't see an opposite correlation in the massed groupor in the neither group.And critically, we didn't observe that any groupwas at floor or at ceiling.So it's not that the children were at ceilingand that's why they didn't benefit from either schedule.They actually didn't differ in overall performance

    • 15:43

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: that much or significantly so from the massedand the spaced learning group.So where I want to conclude with this datais just to highlight that there are strikingindividual differences in the degree to which children arebenefiting from a massed schedule, a spaced schedule,or neither schedule.We don't see in the majority of children in this group

    • 16:04

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: that they are benefiting from a spaced schedule,even though on the bigger group levelwe observe a spacing effect.And when we start to think about a developmental mechanismor reason behind why we're seeing these different groupsof children, this data points to long-term memorybeing a critical domain of developmentthat might be driving the origins

    • 16:25

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: or the creation of a spacing effect in children.And I think the most important pointto make before I wrap up is this reallysupports the idea that we need to explore spacing effectsearly on in development.We need to know how they are built.And in particular, how this phenomenon goesfrom being particularly variable in early childhood

    • 16:47

      HALEY VLACH [continued]: to being robust and highly replicable in adulthood.Thank you.[APPLAUSE]

A Developmental Account of the Spacing Effect: Children That Forget More, Remember More

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Abstract

Dr. Haley Vlach presents her research into the spacing effect and the stage at which it manifests in children. She found that some children remembered more from spaced out learning practice, while others benefited from massed learning. She hypothesizes that the spacing effect is tied to the development of long-term memory.

SAGE Video Forum
A Developmental Account of the Spacing Effect: Children That Forget More, Remember More

Dr. Haley Vlach presents her research into the spacing effect and the stage at which it manifests in children. She found that some children remembered more from spaced out learning practice, while others benefited from massed learning. She hypothesizes that the spacing effect is tied to the development of long-term memory.

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