Neural correlates of successful memory encoding in kindergarten and early elementary school children: Longitudinal trends and effects of schooling
From age 5 to 7, there are remarkable improvements in children’s cognitive abilities (“5–7 shift”). In many countries, including Germany, formal schooling begins in this age range. It is, thus, unclear to what extent exposure to formal schooling contributes to the “5–7 shift.” In this longitudinal study, we investigated if schooling acts as a catalyst of maturation. We tested 5-year-old children who were born close to the official cutoff date for school entry and who were still attending a play-oriented kindergarten. One year later, the children were tested again. Some of the children had experienced their first year of schooling whereas the others had remained in kindergarten. Using 2 functional magnetic resonance imaging tasks that assessed episodic memory formation (i.e., subsequent memory effect), we found that children relied strongly on the medial temporal lobe (MTL) at both time points but not on the prefrontal cortex (PFC). In contrast, older children and adults typically show subsequent memory effects in both MTL and PFC. Both children groups improved in their memory performance, but there were no longitudinal changes nor group differences in neural activation. We conclude that successful memory formation in this age group relies more heavily on the MTL than in older age groups.
Cereb Cortex. 31(8):3764-3779 (2021)