Topic: A research on children’s memory.
We were assigned to conduct a case study on 26 September 2008 on the basis of theories that we have learned. We, the researchers, chose to perform a research on children’s memory. Dempster (1981) stated that children are able to retain numbers which are approximately 7 digits. It starts from 2 digits in 2-year-old, 5 digits in 7-year-old, to 6 and 7 in 12-year-old (Santrock, 2008). However, with the widespread use of mobile phone among people from all walks of life, children currently are able to remember phone numbers which are usually more than 7 digits. This spurred us, the researchers, to conduct an investigation on children’s ability to retain mobile phone’s number which was usually more than 7 digit numbers. The result of the investigation would justify the validity of the theory and allow us to find solutions to enhance children’s memory.
The purpose of the case study was to investigate the degree of children’s retention of information specifically numbers in terms of sensory memory, short-term memory and long-term memory. The mechanism of how the memory worked and the solutions on how to extend the retention of information could also be identified.
2.0 LITERATURE REVIEW
Cognitive psychologist, George A. Miller (1956) had conducted a project paper ‘The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two’. In this research, he conducted several cognitive and perceptual tasks on his subjects which showed the memory span of human that revolved between 5 and 9. Thus, he believed that the memory span of young adults is around seven elements; called ‘chunks,’ regardless of whether the elements are digits, letters, words, or other units, the numbers might be less for children and older adults.
His research corresponded with what Dempster (1981) had stated that children are able to retain numbers which are approximately 7 digits. It starts from 2 digits in 2-year-old, 5 digits in 7-year-old, to 6 and 7 in 12-year-olds (Santrock, 2008). He added that there are many factors that affect a person’s measured span, and therefore it is difficult to decide the capacity of short-term memory to a number of chunks such as length of the content, lexical status of the content and the time it takes in speaking the content aloud.
Miller (1956) noted that according to this theory, it should be possible to effectively increase short-term memory for low-information-content items by mentally recoding them into a smaller number of high-information-content items. For example, in an attempt to remember a phone number, 012-8350757, instead of remembering the 10 digits beyond 7 plus and minus 2, the numbers are remembered as four groups when the numbers are ‘chunked’.
The appropriate procedure which was used was case study, an in-depth look at an individual experience.
3.2 Method Used
The subject was required to repeat orally a series of number which were presented visually and orally in order to identify the degree of her memory in terms of the three types of memory. The subject was also required to carry out several processes of encoding which could possibly enhance the retention of information. The responses received were analyzed in order to obtain the required information.
The subject that we selected aged 9 years old, who comes from the middle-class family. The subject was Standard 3 female pupil in an international primary school. The family background of the subject was well-educated especially with the fact that both of her parents worked as lecturers in a higher institution.
The setback of this research was that it was only focused on one individual, the subject. It was not suitable to be generalized to all other children since individual variations should be taken into account. Thus, although the research showed result which was different from what was expected, it was inappropriate to be applied in teaching and learning.
4.0 FINDING AND DISCUSSION
There are three tasks conducted by the instructor on the subject:
The card that depicts the numbers was shown to the subject briefly. The subject was asked to repeat the numbers in which she failed to do.
The subject was required to listen to the instructor who presented the numbers verbally. Then, the subject was asked to repeat the number immediately in which she was able to do. The subject still managed to repeat the numbers after a while without any prompt from the instructor.
The subject was given an opportunity by the instructor to practice remembering the numbers through rehearsal and organization technique within a few minutes. The subject was also informed that the numbers were actually the numbers of her father’s mobile phone. The subject managed to remember the numbers even after a few minutes being asked by the instructor. When the subject was asked to utter the number in the next 2 days, the subject still managed to remember the whole numbers and she also remembered that the number is her father’s mobile phone.
4.1 Application of Theory
Sensory Memory: When the card containing the numbers was briefly shown to the subject, she could see it but she could neither remember nor repeat what she saw exactly. This corresponded to the sensory memory which only holds information from the world in its original form for only an instant (Santrock, 2008). It enabled the subject to retain what she saw only in the immediate context in which she saw what was on the card. As the card was turned back, the retention was immediately disintegrated.
Short-Term Memory: The subject was required to listen to the instructor as the instructor verbally presented the numbers. Immediately, the subject managed to repeat the numbers. After a while, the subject managed to repeat the numbers. This was best illustrated by the principle of short-term memory in which the information is retained as long as 30 seconds and can be retained longer with rehearsal (Santrock, 2008). The subject managed to repeat the numbers immediately after the instructor because the short-term memory still managed to hold the information within that particular period of time. According to Baddeley (2001), in his view of working memory in support to short-term memory, the subject was actually using one part of working memory which is the phonological loop, a component which is specialized to briefly speech-based information about the sounds of the language. The subject retained the information through the listening of the numbers being verbally presented by the instructor.
The instructor then showed the subject a card containing the numbers. The subject was given one minute to observe those numbers. The subject was then required to remember the numbers through rehearsal and chunking. In the mean time, the subject was informed that the numbers were actually her father’s mobile phone number. As the card was turned down, the subject managed to repeat the numbers immediately. When the subject was asked to repeat the numbers a minute later, she still managed to repeat the numbers.
In the view of working memory proposed by Baddeley (2001), the subject was using another component of working memory known as visuospatial working memory which was applied through visualizing the numbers. The subject was also required to use two processes of encoding consciously to enhance her memory which were rehearsal and organization and the application of level of processing theory unconsciously by telling the subject that the numbers was her father’s mobile phone number.
Long-term memory: When the subject was asked to repeat the numbers in the next two days, she managed to repeat the numbers perfectly and she still remembered that it was her father’s mobile phone number. This showed the function of long-term memory which can hold enormous amounts of information for a long period of time in a relatively permanent fashion (Santrock, 2008). The information was retained in long-term memory because the subject had practiced to remember the number through rehearsal and chunking guided by the instructor as well as through the application of level of processing theory which were done in the previous task. These processes helped to enhance the retention of the information.
4.2 Argument on Literature Review
Miller (1956) stated that there is no definite decision for the memory span since it is affected by many factors. In the case study, the subject managed to remember the phone number which consisted of 10 digits that are beyond the 7 plus or minus 2. One of the probable factors is due to the importance of the numbers to the subject since it is her father’s phone number. The numbers were also chunked to 3 groups of numbers which indicate that the subject was actually remembering 3 groups of information – the three or four numbers in a group represent a single type of information. Thus, instead of remembering 10 types of information (10 digits of the numbers), the subject actually remembered 3 types of information which was lower that 7 plus or minus 2. Thus, the ability of the subject actually corresponded with the theory and finding of Miller.
The subject was unable to remember the numbers because the information was stored in short-term memory which is limited in capacity and impermanent. The problem can be solved by enhancing the children’s retention of the information in order to stay longer in memory. Thus, several solutions are recommended:
The subject can be trained to remember the numbers better by keep on repeating the numbers. As a result, the information is retained longer in the memory. The subject was able to remember the numbers for longer time when the instructor asked her to keep on repeating the numbers with some efforts to memorize it. According to Santrock (2008), rehearsal is the conscious repetition of information over time to increase the length of time information to stay in memory. Undeniably, repetition is the central aspect of rehearsal which can boost the retention of certain information.
Information can be remembered better if it is organized effectively and efficiently rather than putting it in mishmash. Chunking is a suggested way to organize information by grouping the information into higher-order units that can be remembered better (Santrock, 2008). In this case, the numbers which consist of 10 digits can be divided into 3 groups of three or four numbers which combine the whole numbers together. The subject managed to remember the numbers better when the instructor trained her to remember the numbers by groups since she was actually ‘chunking’ the information.
5.3 Level of Processing Theory
Santrock (2008) described that the processing of memory occurs on a continuum from shallow to deep with deeper processing producing better memory. In this case, the subject at first merely saw the information. She just needed to repeat it without any other significance to her. This refers to the shallow level of processing theory. However, when the subject was informed that the numbers were her father’s mobile phone number, the information became much more important to her as she perceived the numbers in a way that it was really connected to her father. This was the deeper level of processing theory. Thus, the subject was able to remember the information better.
It can be concluded that the mechanism of memory of the subject in processing and retaining the information corresponded with the mechanism of memory proposed by Santrock (2008) through sensory memory, short-term memory and long-term memory.
The subject was able to remember the numbers which consist of 10 digits with sufficient practices through rehearsals and organization processes as well as the level of relevance of the information which could be shown by the level of processing theory.
The ability of the subject to retain the information exceeded the limit set by Demspter (1981) as he predicted that children at that age could probably remember only 6 or 7 digits but there were 10 digits in the numbers that our subject had to remember. For future researchers, the research on children’s memory can be enhanced by increasing the digits of the number in order to study to which extent children are able to remember something, especially numbers.
Santrock, John W. (2008). Education Psychology (3rd Edition). Singapore: The McGraw- Hill Education (Asia).
The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two (2008, July 28). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved October 17, 2008, from: