Frontiers of Infant Psychiatry - Vol. 2

By Justin D. Call; Eleanor Galenson et al. | Go to book overview

8
Affect Retrieval: A Form of Recall
Memory in Prelinguistic Infants

Patricia A. Nachman, Ph.D.

Daniel N. Stern, M.D.

A controversial issue in memory research has been whether or not prelinguistic infants are capable of evocative memory. Evocative memory refers to memory in the absence of the event to be remembered as compared to recognition memory in which the stimulus must be physically present in order for the infant to remember having perceived it. Psychoanalytic writers such as Fraiberg (1969) have argued that the infant is not capable of true recall or evocative memory until approximately one and a half years of age, which is roughly when use of language is under way. Piaget (1936) held a similar view, claiming that recall memory is not evident until after mental imagery, language, or some form of symbolic encoding of experience has evolved.

An observational study by McDevitt (1975) on the development of object constancy suggests that as early as nine months infants show some evidence of retrieval processes from which a rudimentary mental representation of the absent mother can be inferred. Otherwise, how would separation reactions occur? Al‐

though anecdotal reports (Ashmead and Perlmutter, 1980) also support an earlier timetable for the advent of recall or evocative memory, progress in this area has been hampered because traditional techniques have relied almost exclusively on a conventional verbal symbolic system to demonstrate recall memory.

One acknowledged memory system operating during the prelinguistic period that does not require symbolic mediation is the motor memory system. Investigators using an operant conditioning paradigm, (Rovee-Collier and Fagan, 1970; Sullivan et al., 1979) trained three-month-old infants to move an overhead crib-mobile by means of foot kicks and then, after delays of one to fourteen days, reassessed the foot-kicking-response rate to the same but nonmoving mobile. Upon re-exposure, the infants kicked more than at base frequency at intervals as long as eight days, even though the mobile remained unmoving. The visual presence of the mobile and the crib served as context cues that retrieved the original response. Thus a nonverbal motor response, kicking, was evoked from past experience and served to demonstrate long-term cued-recall motor memory.

Although almost all theories of normal and pathological psychic development assume the importance of emotional experience during the

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This article is based on a doctoral dissertation by the first author submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Ph.D. degree, Columbia University. The study was supported by a grant from the Fund for Psychoanalytic Research.

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