Kids left in cars signify failures of ‘prospective memory system’

According to neuroscientist David Diamond, a professor at the University of South Florida, memory lapses resulting in a child left alone in a car happens more frequently than publicized.
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You can forget where you placed your car keys, forget to stop by somewhere on your way home, you can even forget a cup of coffee on the roof of your car but how can parents forget their child in the backseat?

Although this may sound absurd, memory lapses resulting in a child left alone in a car happens more frequently than publicized and according to neuroscientist David Diamond, a professor at the University of South Florida, “it involves a failure of the prospective memory system to function properly.”

Prospective memory is a form of memory that involves remembering to perform a planned action or recall a planned intention at some future point in time.

Diamond’s research into hot box cases indicates that there is a common element.

“In all of the cases I’ve studied, the parent begins the drive with the plan to bring the child to a destination, but at some point during the drive, the parent reports having lost awareness of the child in the car. In these cases, the parent travels directly to the final destination (typically home or work), and in the process, exits the car without awareness that the child is still in the car.”

Factors that contribute to this loss of awareness of a child in a car include sleep deprivation, stress or distraction during the drive, a change in the driving route and the child being unusually quiet most likely having fallen asleep.

GPD Spokesman Sgt Paul Tapao points out that ultimately the well-being of a child falls on the parents or guardians.

“For somebody to really forget your child, you know, it’s a fine line. We have the laws that dictate how we move forward with that but there is also understanding as a parent. Parental guidance will make you understand that before you put the groceries away, bring your child in first and secure your child. That’s precious cargo,” Tapao said.

Tapao says that police have seen an uptick in children being left alone in cars. But for the most part. many of the cases involve tourists and visitors intentionally leaving their children in the car based on common practice in their homelands.

But not all hot box cases which have occurred on island are intentional. He says parents should make it routine to check the back seat, ensure that distracting devices are put away and focus on the most important things — the precious cargo that is your kids.


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Jolene joined the PNC team in 2017, as a producer, co-anchor and investigative reporter covering law enforcement, courts and crimes. Notable coverage includes the Ehlert case, the Mark Torre Jr. trial, the Allan Agababa trial, exclusive pieces on the Life of a Drug Dealer/Addict, and Life behind bars...the story of Honofre Chargualaf and Kevin Cruz. In 2019, she was promoted to Assistant News Director and Lead Anchor. From 2015 to 2017 she served as Public Relations and Promotions Manager, for the Hotel Nikko Guam handling local radio and advertorial promotions, as well as produced and directed tv commercials for the hotel. Prior to this she worked with KUAM for three years as a reporter and segment host. She began her journalism career in 2012, working with Glimpses of Guam contributing to the Guam Business Magazine, R&R magazine, MDM magazine and the Marianas Business Journal.