The Emergence of Self-Referential Memory in Children: Related to Theory of Mind Development?
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The self-referential effect in memory (SRE) is a robust memory advantage for items encoded in relation to the self, compared to items encoded in relation to another (Symons and Johnson, 1997). For a SRE to occur, it is thought a developed self-concept is crucial for this memory bias to occur (Oakes and Hayman, 2008). Traditional SRE research has focused on this phenomenon in adults, with only a handful of studies concerning the development of SRE in children (Sui and Zhu, 2005). To explore this phenomenon in children, the most developmentally appropriate paradigm to-date is an ownership paradigm, which would allow children to show a SRE through ownership of an object (Cunningham, Brady-Van Den Bos and Turk, 2011). The current study aims to investigate the effects of SRE on children’s developing Theory of Mind, through the links associated with both Theory of Mind and SRE with self-concept development (Neary, Freidman and Burnstein, 2009) in the hope of identifying the age at which a child’s self- concept is developed enough to influence both of these developmental phenomena. Pairs of 3- and 4- year old children (N=22) were given picture cards to sort into self- and other-owned sets. They were then given a surprise memory recognition task, Theory of Mind tasks and verbal ability assessment (using the BPVS). The results showed that there was a significant relationship between age in months and the number of correctly recalled self-referenced items, but that there was no significant relationship between age, performance on the memory task and ownership of the item, suggesting a SRE was not present in the current target age group. There was also no significant relationship between Theory of Mind performance and SRE, suggesting that perhaps SRE is not indicative of Theory of Mind despite their link with self-concept. The current results are discussed along with future research implications.