Exploring patterns of visual attention during learning
Research using the deferred imitation paradigm has shown that memory retrieval in humans becomes progressively more flexible across the infancy period (for review see Jones&Herbert, 2006). The aim of this research was to determine whether changes in the focus of attention during learning might account for early developmental changes in memory retrieval. An SMI remote eye-tracker measured visual fixations by 6-, 9- and 12-month-old infants, and an adult comparison group as they watched an imitation demonstration on the computer. Infants and adults were tested for immediate visual recognition of event components and infants were also tested for behavioural recall of the target actions. During the demonstration, infants spent the greatest proportion of time attending to the object and person while adults primarily attended to the object. There were also significant differences between infants who showed evidence of behavioural recall of the actions and infants who did not: imitators spent significantly more time than nonimitators attending to the person, and less time attending to the background. Across age, participants showed no evidence of recognition memory for event components, suggesting that merely attending to event components is not sufficient for later recognition. Taken together, these findings show that even when recognition memory for the individual event components is limited, attentional focus during learning plays a role in overall event recall. Changes in attentional focus from infancy to adulthood potentially reflect developments in how individuals understand or interpret events during learning, and may thus contribute toward developmental changes in memory retrieval.