Ontogenetic Forgetting of Stimulus Attributes

Publication Title

Learning & Behavior

Publication Date


Document Type



psychology, memory, forgetting




The effects of age on the forgetting of stimulus attributes in a differential fear-conditioning paradigm were examined with 18- and 70-day-old rats tested in either the original conditions or shifted stimulating conditions at one of three retention intervals (1, 48, and 120 h). Adults displayed significant shifts at each retention interval, with those tested in the original context displaying greater fear than those tested in the shifted conditions. By contrast, by 48 h the 18-day-olds had forgotten the specific attributes of the training situation and began treating the two stimulating conditions as functionally equivalent (Experiment 1). In Experiment 2, we tracked the ontogenetic emergence of adult-like memory for stimulus attributes and found a dramatic increase in memory capability by 25 days of age. Experiment 3 illustrated that the forgotten memory attributes of infants may be retrieved by administering a 90-sec cuing treatment 10 min prior to the 48-h test. Implications for the phenomenon of infantile amnesia are discussed.