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Brain Changes Accompany Development of Metamemory from Childhood to Adolescence

Summary: According to researchers, the ability to assess memory quality appears in children, and metamemory continues to improve beyond childhood into adolescence. The findings could provide new insights into effective learning methods and assist teachers to devise new educational strategies.

Source: UC Davis.

Ability to reflect on memories improves memory quality.

Being able to assess our own memories helps us to avoid errors and prompts us to collect more information to fill the gaps. Psychologists know that this ability is present in elementary school-age children. Now a new study shows how this “metamemory” improves from childhood through adolescence, with accompanying changes in brain structure. The work is published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We did not know that this capacity continues to improve into adolescence, and virtually all previous evidence came from cross-sectional studies comparing children at different ages instead of testing the same children over time,” said co-author Simona Ghetti, professor of psychology at the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis.

Ghetti, postdoctoral researcher Yana Fandakova and colleagues studied 145 children aged between the ages of seven and 15 three times, with each time point a bit over a year apart. The children carried out some memory tasks assessing the actual accuracy of their memories and their ability to reflect on the accuracy of memories, and measurements of brain structures were made with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). They also looked at a control group of 31 adults.

Image shows a young boy at school.

The ability to reflect on memories and assess their quality is important for learning. This “metamemory” ability appears in elementary school-age children and develops into adolescence, UC Davis researchers have found. NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.

They found that the ability to introspect on memories continuously improves into adolescence. By analyzing changes in individual children over time, they could show that decreases in thickness in the insular cortex and increases in thickness in the ventromedial cortex predicted improvements in metamemory over time.

“These regions are important for our capacity to detect errors, reflect, and regulate our behaviors, and their thickness changes at different rates. We showed that their unique pattern of change is important for introspection and memory improvements during a period of tremendous learning opportunities,” Ghetti said.

The team also measured the children’s IQ at the first and last time point. Better metamemory predicted increases in IQ over time and vice versa.

A better understanding of how metamemory develops may be useful in education and fostering new skills, Ghetti said.

About this neuroscience research article

Funding: Fandakova is now an independent researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin. Additional co-authors are: Diana Selmeczy and Sarah Leckey, UC Davis; Kevin Grimm, Arizona State University; Carter Wendelken and Silvia Bunge, UC Berkeley. The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

Source: Andy Fell – UC Davis
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is adapted from the UC Davis news release.
Original Research: Abstract for “Changes in ventromedial prefrontal and insular cortex support the development of metamemory from childhood into adolescence” by Yana Fandakova, Diana Selmeczy, Sarah Leckey, Kevin J. Grimm, Carter Wendelken, Silvia A. Bunge, and Simona Ghetti in PNAS. Published online July 3 2017 doi:10.1073/pnas.1703079114

Cite This NeuroscienceNews.com Article
UC Davis “Brain Changes Accompany Development of Metamemory from Childhood to Adolescence.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 5 July 2017.
<http://neurosciencenews.com/metamemory-neurodevelopment-7031/>.
UC Davis (2017, July 5). Brain Changes Accompany Development of Metamemory from Childhood to Adolescence. NeuroscienceNew. Retrieved July 5, 2017 from http://neurosciencenews.com/metamemory-neurodevelopment-7031/
UC Davis “Brain Changes Accompany Development of Metamemory from Childhood to Adolescence.” http://neurosciencenews.com/metamemory-neurodevelopment-7031/ (accessed July 5, 2017).

Abstract

Changes in ventromedial prefrontal and insular cortex support the development of metamemory from childhood into adolescence

Metamemory monitoring, or the ability to introspect on the accuracy of one’s memories, improves considerably during childhood, but the underlying neural changes and implications for intellectual development are largely unknown. The present study examined whether cortical changes in key brain areas hypothesized to support metacognition contribute to the development of metamemory monitoring from late childhood into early adolescence. Metamemory monitoring was assessed among 7- to 12-y-old children (n = 145) and adults (n = 31). Children returned for up to two additional assessments at 8 to 14 y of age (n = 120) and at 9 to 15 y of age (n = 107) (n = 347 longitudinal scans). Results showed that metamemory monitoring continues to improve from childhood into adolescence. More pronounced cortical thinning in the anterior insula and a greater increase in the thickness of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex over the three assessment points predicted these improvements. Thus, performance benefits are linked to the unique patterns of regional cortical change during development. Metamemory monitoring at the first time point predicted intelligence at the third time point and vice versa, suggesting parallel development of these abilities and their reciprocal influence. Together, these results provide insights into the neuroanatomical correlates supporting the development of the capacity to self-reflect, and highlight the role of this capacity for general intellectual development.

“Changes in ventromedial prefrontal and insular cortex support the development of metamemory from childhood into adolescence” by Yana Fandakova, Diana Selmeczy, Sarah Leckey, Kevin J. Grimm, Carter Wendelken, Silvia A. Bunge, and Simona Ghetti in PNAS. Published online July 3 2017 doi:10.1073/pnas.1703079114

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