The Effects of Mother Training in Emotion-Rich, Elaborative Reminiscing on Children's Shared Recall and Emotion Knowledge

Van Bergen, P., Salmon, K., Dadds, M.R., Allen, J. (2009).

How does the content and style of mother-child reminiscing affect a child's cognitive and socio-emotional development (namely, autobiographical memory and emotion knowledge)?


Autobiographical memory: our memory of the events in our lives
Emotion knowledge: "awareness and understanding of own and other's emotional states, expressions, causes and outcomes" (Denham, 1998; cited by Van Bergen et al, 2009)**[1]


  • High elaborative style of mother's reminiscing = better recall in infant
  • Content shapes autobiographical memory, especially in the case of emotional content

    angel baby books.jpg
BUT these are done with experimenter-child interactions and does not tap into the natural and more frequent interactions between parents and children. Using training manipulations can help researchers do this!

"Training" studies

‍‍‍‍Peterson, Jesso and McCabe; as cited by‍‍‍ Van Bergen et al., 2009.‍

  • Mothers trained to ask 43 month old children more open-ended and context-eliciting questions.
  • The result: an immediate increase in vocabulary, and one year later, memory narratives with more context-specific descriptions

Reese and Newcombe; as cited by Van Bergen et al, 2009.

  • Mothers trained to ask 19 month toddlers open-ended questions and confirm their contributions.
  • The result: at 34 months (15 months later), children of trained mothers provided more memory elaborations both during shared recall with their mothers, and with an experimenter also

The current study

Also looking at training, but also including an active control condition (not previously done in training experiments) and focusing on emotion.
  • Can parents be taught to increase emotional aspects of their reminiscing?
  • Will this combination of high-elaborative and emotional reminiscing influence the content of their children's own reminiscing contributions?
  • Will this combination also alter children's emotional knowledge?


  • Mothers in the reminiscing condition will increase their use of a high-elaborative style and emotion content following training
  • During both shared and independent recall, children in the reminiscing condition would:
  1. Increase high-elaborative utterances
  2. Increase emotion-oriented utterances
  3. Show superior emotion knowledge


Important notes:
-From advertisements placed in a free parenting magazine (in Sydney)
-Children aged between 37 and 59 months

1. Initial pre-training assessment
2. Four training sessions (1 week apart)
3. Post-training assessment
4. 6-month follow-up assessmentmother training.gif


-Mothers receive verbal encouragement from experimenters
-They then watch a video to demonstrate instructions
-They are given a booklet to read and take home

Instructions specify:
-Using "wh-" questions
-Building on kids' detailed descriptions
-Discussing emotions

Control group: had exactly the same number of assessment and training sessions, except instead of child-directed speech, they had child-directed play with their mothers (all else remained equal). This meant that both mothers and children had same time with each other and experimenters across all conditions, and the contols also had instructed child-directed behaviour (play versus speech) so as to account for any possible confounds (e.g. attentiveness) that had nothing to do with style of speech.


Memory conversations:
-Mother nominates four events, two of which are randomly selected to talk about
1. High elaborative utterances: "wh" questions, information statements
2. Low elaborative utterances: repetitions of information, or information already given prior, and closed-ended yes/no questions and answers
3. Confirmations: agree or disagree with information already provided in the same conversation
Total number of each counted, and means per event were calculated.

‍‍‍‍Emotion Knowledge:‍‍‍‍
-Denham's Emotion Knowledge Task
-Emotion Cause Knowledge Task

-Preschool Language Scale


--- Mother's Reminiscing Style
  • Main effect of condition, not time, on mothers' reminiscing style
  • Time x condition interaction for wh- questions, info statements and high-elaborative utterances
  • No effect for low-elaborative utterances
--- Mother's Emotion Content
  • Time x condition interaction (number of emotion references, that is) - but main effect only of condition, not time
--- Hypotheses re mothers:
  • "Mothers in the reminiscing condition will increase their use of a high-elaborative style and emotion content following training"
    Hypothesis SUPPORTED by the evidence shown in the results, i.e. mothers in the reminiscing condition did increase their use of a high-elaborative style and emotion content following training
    Important to note - this suggests training was successful!

=> Note: no significant effects for independent recall with experimenter (all the following show only shared recall with mother)
--- Children's Reminiscing Style
high elab utterances.png
Main effect of condition, not time; interaction effect of condition x time
Figure 1. Children in the Reminiscing Training condition showed a significant increase in high-elaborative utterances at post-training (while there was no significant increase between groups at pre-training). Furthermore, high-elaborative utterances were significantly higher at 6 month follow up than at post-training, while across all three assessment times, there was no significant difference in the number of high-elaborative utterances for children in the control condition.
--- Children's Emotion Content
emotion utterances.png
Again, main effect of condition, not time - and interaction effect of time x condition

Figure 2. Children in the control training condition showed no difference in number of emotion-oriented utterances between the three assessment periods. However, children in the reminiscing training condition showed a significant increase in emotion-oriented utterances in the post-training assessment (compared to pre-training), however this decreased slightly at the 6-month follow up. However it was still significantly higher relative to both the same group's score at pre-training, and also compared to the control group.

--- Children's Emotional Knowledge
Only a main effect of time - no effect of‍‍‍‍ condition, or interaction between the two. T‍hat is, emotion knowledge increased over time for children across all conditions, but there no significant difference in emotional knowledge between the two conditions.‍‍‍

--- Children's Emotion Cause Knowledge
emotion cause.png
No main effect of time, and only a marginal effect of condition. Interaction effect significant though

Figure 3. The effect of training style on emotion cause knowledge between pre-training and post-training was marginal only. However at the six month follow up, this effect was significant, such that children in the reminscing training condition had significantly higher scores on emotion cause knowledge than children in the control condition.
---‍‍‍‍ Hypothese‍‍‍‍s:
"During both shared and independent recall, children in the reminiscing condition would:
-increase high-elaborative utterances
Supported, but only in shared recall
-increase emotion-oriented utterances
Supported, but only in shared recall
-show superior emotion knowledge
Supported in shared recall - but only in the case of Emotion Cause Knowledge, not Emotional Knowledge

Thought Questions:

1. What are some possible confounding variables that could be noted in this study? How do you think the researchers should take these into account in a future study?

2.The researchers state in the discussion that a child typically would not internalise, and manifest, their parent's reminiscing style until about age 5 or 6. This raises the question of whether a child's high-elaborative recall in the trained mothers condition is a result of their 'mimicking' their mother's recall style, which is why a change was apparent in shared recall with their mother, or if it indeed reflects a difference in memory development independent of mimicking effects. What are some (theoretical) arguments for and against the mimicking possibility?

3. The researchers point out the problem of 'multiple foci' - that is, that both high-elaborative recall and emotional content were included so that it was not possible to discern "what caused what" in the results. What part of the reminiscing training do you think improved shared recall and emotional knowledge? Do you think it was as simple as high-elaborative recall affecting recall, and emotional content affecting emotional knowledge? Or could the relationships be more complex?

Future Directions
Memory Home
Effects of Maternal Reminiscing
Effects of Family and Culture
  1. ^ Van Bergen, P., Salmon, K., Dadds, M.R., Allen, J. (2009). The Effects of Mother Training in Emotion-Rich, Elaborative Reminiscing on Children's Shared Recall and Emotion Knowledge, Journal of Cognition and Development, 10(3), 162-187.**