Researchers from Ruhr- Universitaet Bochum (RUB) in Germany have found that the mood babies are in when they learn something new impacts their ability to learn and recall information later on.
Studies have found that adults are better able to remember certain experiences when they are in the same mood in which they first experienced them. Until now, though, similar research had not been conducted in babies.
To change this, the researchers studied 96 children aged nine months old. To begin, the babies either performed quiet activities with their parents (such as flicking through picture books) or more lively activities- such as hopping around and playing. Afterward, they watched the experimenter perform actions with a hand puppet to learn how to imitate them.
An hour later, the experimenters then set out to test the infants to see if they could recall what they’d learned and imitate the actions of the puppet again. Just before the test, however, some of the babies were put in the same state as they had been in while learning, and others were put in a different mood by playing the opposite game.
All in all, the researchers found that babies who had been in different moods when learning and recalling were unable to imitate the puppet’s actions. Meanwhile, those in the same mood were more than two and a half times more likely to recall the actions they had previously learned.
The researchers say their findings show that mood fluctuations during early infancy can prevent access to memory content and stifle learning. They also say that the findings may explain why adults can’t remember any experiences from their early childhood- they’re simply not in the same ‘mental space’ as they were when they happened.
The study may also explain why children remember some things and not others in different situations. After all, some things a child learned while in a quiet mood may no longer be accessible when they are upset.
“In this study, we only looked at one age group,” says Sabine Seehagen, Head of the Developmental Psychology research group at RUB. “Further research will be necessary to explore how the relationship between mood and memory develops with increasing age.”