The emergence of event organization during development
Everyday, adults organize our continuous experience into discrete episodic events, which allows us to not only recall events in the near and distant past but also to use previous experiences to generate expectations for the future. Children, on the other hand, often struggle to efficiently organize temporal experience into discrete events, leading to worse memory for event detail and order. The refinement in temporal organization that occurs during development has been attributed to a number of factors; including the accumulation of existing knowledge to draw upon and the developmental emergence of integration and differentiation mechanisms of the hippocampal and prefrontal cortex (PFC) memory network. As experience unfolds, a mature memory system relies on hippocampal processes to integrate predictable event elements of ongoing experience into a shared representation and to differentiate event elements into separate representations under conditions of uncertainty. To generate predictions, a mature memory system relies on abstract generalizable event representation when encountering new or related experiences. This aids in the efficient organization of ongoing experience, and facilitates event memory. Several open questions remain when and how integration and differentiation processes emerge in a developing memory system to organize the perceptual complexity of continuous experience into discrete event memories. In this proposal, I will probe the developmental trajectory of the capacity to efficiently organize our continuous experience by (1) understanding the features of experience that both facilitate and worsen event memories during development and (2) understanding the change in neural representations underlying the refinement of temporal organization during development. By focusing on a period of middle childhood (7-12 years of age), I can tie refinements in temporal organization to key developmental changes in the hippocampal—PFC network. I will demonstrate that as the anterior hippocampus and medial PFC (mPFC) matures – including the connections between these regions – children’s capacity to efficiently organize temporal experience becomes more adult-like. This work provides important theoretical contributions to the role of the hippocampus— mPFC memory network in organizing continuous temporal experience into discrete events.