What can we learn about immediate memory from the development of children's free recall?

Christopher Jarrold*, Debbora Hall, Caroline E. Harvey, Helen Tam, John N. Towse, Amy L. Zarandi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
406 Downloads (Pure)


We ask the question: Which aspects of immediate memory performance improve with age? In two studies, we reexamine the widely held view that primary memory capacity estimates derived from children's immediate free recall are age invariant. This was done by assessing children's immediate free-recall accuracy while also measuring the order in which they elected to recall items (Experiment 1) and by encouraging children to begin free recall with items from towards the end of the presented list (Experiment 2). Across samples aged between 5 and 8 years we replicated the previously reported age-related changes in free-recall serial position functions when aggregated across all trials of the standard task, including an absence of age differences in the recency portion of this curve. However, we also show that this does not reflect the fact that primary memory capacity is constant across age. Instead, when we incorporate order of report information, clear age differences are evident in the recall of list-final items that are output at the start of a participant's response. In addition, the total amount that individuals recalled varied little across different types of free-recall tasks. These findings have clear implications for the use of immediate free recall as a means of providing potential indices of primary memory capacity and in the study of the development of immediate memory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1871-1894
Number of pages24
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number9
Early online date16 Feb 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Bibliographical note

Date of Acceptance: 27/07/2014

Structured keywords

  • Memory


  • Primary memory
  • free recall
  • immediate memory development


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