Brock Psychology looking for why kids are forgetful

A team from Brock University’s Department of Psychology is looking to find out why some preschoolers can have issues with memory. The team is made up of Caitlin Mahy an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, Lydia Lavis a fourth-year honours student in Neuroscience, and lab manager, Amanda Krause.

Mahy describes their project’s prediction as: “Three year olds fail to carry out their intentions because they forget what they had to do, whereas four year olds forget to carry out their intentions because they don’t detect the cue at the right time — but can still remember what they had to do.”

The research is based around these two distinct possibilities as to why children are so forgetful. Another possibility however, is that both of these options are correct and are simply changing based on age. Meaning that while there are technically two different hypotheses, they can  both be correct at different stages of development. While this does add an additional layer of difficulty in discerning which Hypotheses, or both, are correct it creates an interesting problem.

The team collaborated with the OSC (Ontario Science Centre) through its Research Live program in order to collect a high volume of data in a short period of time.

Interestingly, this research also takes a somewhat newer but also incredibly effective approach of conducting the research in a public setting, like a museum. With the high volume of visitors at these public places and the brevity of the research being performed the team is able to study nearly a year’s worth of data within a single week. This is because of the ‘out-of-the-way’ nature of the lab and that not many parents are willing to take their preschooler to a lab to be studied.

The reason this form of study is still controversial is because it can be difficult to control the surroundings, but Mahy’s team reported that they found the children focused despite being in a noisy public area. The OSC also helped ensure a diverse group of research subjects from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Getting pre-schoolers with backgrounds in Canada, the U.K. and the United Arab Emirates to participate in the study.

“[Mahy’s] approach to developing novel ways to undertake data collection is a fine example of the innovative efforts made by junior faculty in the Social Sciences,” said Diane Dupont, Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research in the Faculty.

Dupont described the fact that such unique methods of gathering data actually improved their research through the quantity they were able to collect, as well as the breadth of research inquiry undertaken by the Brock faculty.

This study can also be seen as a proving grounds for this type of data collection in a public setting. Many studies could greatly benefit from being able to field so many possible candidates for said research that should this method be popularized, Mahy believes it can speed up a massive amount of research.

The data while primarily being gathered from preschoolers 3-4 years of age can be especially helpful in further studies of children of any age.

The data will be used in Lavis’ honours thesis project.

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