Space and time in episodic memory: Effects of linearity and directionality on memory for spatial location and temporal order in children and adults
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Episodic memory is a critical capacity that involves remembering past events along with their spatial and temporal contexts. Relatively little is known about the relations between spatial and temporal information in long-term memory in children or adults. The present research examined the influence of the mental timeline (linear horizontal display extending from the left to right direction for English speakers) on memory for events and their spatial and temporal features in 7-year-olds, 9-year-olds, 11-year-olds and young adults (N = 146). During encoding, participants studied triplets of objects, varying on two dimensions of the mental timeline: linearity (whether objects were presented in linear succession or not) and direction (whether objects were presented from left-to-right or right-to-left). After a delay, during retrieval, participants were tested on their memory for individual objects, and either the spatial location or temporal order of the objects. We found that overall accuracy for spatial location was higher than accuracy for temporal order, and there was a parallel developmental trajectory for both these aspects of memory. Across age groups we found that memory for temporal order, but not spatial location, was influenced by linearity and direction (i.e., match to mental timeline). Thus, in both children and adults the spatiotemporal mental timeline supported memory for temporal order, converging with predictions generated within domains of language and thought and enhancing our understanding of how space and time are represented in the mind.
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