People tend to recall new pieces of information that are classified as “mine” better than information that is classified as “others’”. This effect has been called self-referencing. Why is that happening? Knowledge of oneself is vast and rich in detail. Therefore, anything that is directly associated with the self is encoded in greater detail and better linked to existing categories of knowledge. This increased elaboration and organization of information that is associated with the self subsequently results in higher recall. This well-established effect has been repeatedly demonstrated in adults, but research in kids is sparse. Moreover, it remains unclear at what age the self-referencing effect first appears. This is the research gap that Emma L. Axelsson (Australian National University, Australia; Uppsala University, Sweden), Rachelle L. Dawson, Sharon Y. Yim and Tashfia Quddus (Australian National University, Australia) tried to fill with their recent research. In their study, they used the self-reference ownership paradigm with 3-year-old children and examined their retention of novel words. Specifically, children were presented with novel word-object pairings. For some of the objects they were told that they belonged to them, whereas for others they were told that they belonged to others. Immediately after this task, it was found that children recalled much better the self-referenced words than the other-referenced words. However, the difference between self-referenced and other-referenced words dissipated when children were tested 4 hours later or the next morning. The importance of these findings is that they show for the first time that toddlers already at the age of 3 have an improved memory of words classified as “mine”, although this seems to diminish over time. Apparently, the self-referencing effect is rooted in early developmental stages of humans. Take advantage of this finding and next time you want a toddler to memorize a word, make sure you pair it with “their” toy!
You can read more about this research here.