Gaze-based rehearsal in children under 7: A developmental investigation of eye movements during a serial spatial memory task

Candice Morey, Silvana Mareva, Jaroslaw Lelonkiewicz, Nicolas Chevalier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The emergence of strategic verbal rehearsal at around 7 years of age is widely considered a major milestone in descriptions of the development of short-term memory across childhood. Likewise, rehearsal is believed by many to be a crucial factor in explaining why memory improves with age. This apparent qualitative shift in mnemonic processes has also been characterized as a shift from passive visual to more active verbal mnemonic strategy use, but no investigation of the development of overt spatial rehearsal has informed this explanation. We measured serial spatial order reconstruction in adults and groups of children 5-7 years old and 8-11 years old, while recording their eye movements. Children, articularly the youngest children, overtly fixated late-list spatial positions longer than adults, suggesting that younger children are less likely to engage in covert rehearsal during stimulus presentation than older children and adults. However, during retention the youngest children overtly fixated more of the to-be-remembered sequences than any other group, which is inconsistent with the idea that children do nothing to try to remember. Altogether, these data are inconsistent with the
notion that children under 7 do not engage in any attempts to remember. They are most consistent with proposals that children's style of remembering shifts around age 7 from reactive cue-driven methods to proactive, covert methods, which may include cumulative rehearsal.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12559
Pages (from-to)1-9
JournalDevelopmental Science
Issue number3
Early online date12 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - May 2018


  • spatial working memory
  • spatial memory
  • working memory
  • short term memory
  • eye tracking


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