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Thread: Why Can’t We Remember Our Early Childhood?

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    Why Can’t We Remember Our Early Childhood?

    Most of us don’t have any memories from the first three to four years of our lives – in fact, we tend to remember very little of life before the age of seven. And when we do try to think back to our earliest memories, it is often unclear whether they are the real thing or just recollections based on photos or stories told to us by others.

    The phenomenon, known as “childhood amnesia”, has been puzzling psychologists for more than a century – and we still don’t fully understand it.

    At first glance, it may seem that the reason we don’t remember being babies is because infants and toddlers don’t have a fully developed memory. But babies as young as six months can form both short-term memories that last for minutes, and long-term memories that last weeks, if not months. In one study, six-month-olds who learned how to press a lever to operate a toy train remembered how to perform this action for two to three weeks after they had last seen the toy. Preschoolers, on the other hand, can remember events that go years back. It’s debatable whether long-term memories at this early age are truly autobiographical, though – that is, personally relevant events that occurred in a specific time and place.

    Of course, memory capabilities at these ages are not adult-like – they continue to mature until adolescence. In fact, developmental changes in basic memory processes have been put forward as an explanation for childhood amnesia, and it’s one of the best theories we’ve got so far. These basic processes involve several brain regions and include forming, maintaining and then later retrieving the memory. For example, the hippocampus, thought to be responsible for forming memories, continues developing until at least the age of seven. We know that the typical boundary for the offset of childhood amnesia – three and a half years – shifts with age. Children and teenagers have earlier memories than adults do. This suggests that the problem may be less with forming memories than with maintaining them.

    But this does not seem to be the whole story. Another factor that we know plays a role is language. From the ages of one to six, children progress from the one-word stage of speaking to becoming fluent in their native language(s), so there are major changes in their verbal ability that overlap with the childhood amnesia period. This includes using the past tense, memory-related words such as “remember” and “forget”, and personal pronouns, a favourite being “mine”.

    It is true to some extent that a child’s ability to verbalise about an event at the time that it happened predicts how well they remember it months or years later. One lab group conducted this work by interviewing toddlers brought to accident and emergency departments for common childhood injuries. Toddlers over 26 months, who could verbalise about the event at the time, recalled it up to five years later, whereas those under 26 months, who could not talk about it, recalled little or nothing. This suggests that preverbal memories are lost if they are not translated into language.

    Social and cultural effects

    However, most research on the role of language focuses on a particular form of expression called narrative, and its social function. When parents reminisce with very young children about past events, they implicitly teach them narrative skills – what kinds of events are important to remember and how to structure talking about them in a way that others can understand.

    Unlike simply recounting information for factual purposes, reminiscing revolves around the social function of sharing experiences with others. In this way, family stories maintain the memory’s accessibility over time, and also increase the coherence of the narrative, including the chronology of events, their theme, and their degree of emotion. More coherent stories are remembered better. Maori adults have the earliest childhood memories (age 2.5) of any society studied so far, thanks to Maori parents’ highly elaborative style of telling family stories.

    Reminiscing has different social functions in different cultures, which contribute to cultural variations in the quantity, quality and timing of early autobiographical memories. Adults in cultures that value autonomy (North America, Western Europe) tend to report earlier and more childhood memories than adults in cultures that value relatedness (Asia, Africa).

    This is predicted by cultural differences in parental reminiscing style. In cultures that promote more autonomous self-concepts, parental reminiscing focuses more on children’s individual experiences, preferences, and feelings, and less on their relationships with others, social routines, and behavioural standards. For example, an American child might remember getting a gold star in preschool whereas a Chinese child might remember the class learning a particular song at preschool.

    While there are still things we don’t understand about childhood amnesia, researchers are making progress. For example, there are more prospective longitudinal studies that follow individuals from childhood into the future. This helps give accurate accounts of events, which is better than retrospectively asking teens or adults to remember past events which are not documented. Also, as neuroscience progresses, there will undoubtedly be more studies relating brain development to memory development. This should help us develop other measures of memory besides verbal reports.

    In the meantime, it’s important to remember that, even if we can’t explicitly remember specific events from when we were very young, their accumulation nevertheless leaves lasting traces that influence our behaviour. The first few years of life are paradoxically forgettable and yet powerful in shaping the adults that we become.
    https://theconversation.com/why-cant...hildhood-62325

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    Psychologists document the age our earliest memories fade

    Although infants use their memories to learn new information, few adults can remember events in their lives that happened prior to the age of three. Psychologists at Emory University have now documented that age seven is when these earliest memories tend to fade into oblivion, a phenomenon known as “childhood amnesia.”

    The journal Memory published the research, which involved interviewing children about past events in their lives, starting at age three. Different subsets of the group of children were then tested for recall of these events at ages five, six, seven, eight and nine.

    “Our study is the first empirical demonstration of the onset of childhood amnesia,” says Emory psychologist Patricia Bauer, who led the study. “We actually recorded the memories of children, and then we followed them into the future to track when they forgot these memories.”

    The study’s co-author is Marina Larkina, a manager of research projects for Emory’s Department of Psychology.

    The Bauer Memory Development Lab focuses on how episodic, or autobiographical memory, changes through childhood and early adulthood.

    “Knowing how autobiographical memory develops is critically important to understanding ourselves as psychic beings,” Bauer says. “Remembering yourself in the past is how you know who you are today.”

    Scientists have long known, based on interviews with adults, that most people’s earliest memories only go back to about age 3. Sigmund Freud coined the term “childhood amnesia” to describe this loss of memory from the infant years. Using his psychoanalytic theory, Freud made the controversial proposal that people were repressing their earliest memories due to their inappropriate sexual nature.

    In recent years, however, growing evidence indicates that, while infants use memory to learn language and make sense of the world around them, they do not yet have the sophisticated neural architecture needed to form and hold onto more complex forms of memory.

    Instead of relying on interviews with adults, as previous studies of childhood amnesia have done, the Emory researchers wanted to document early autobiographical memory formation, as well as the age of forgetting these memories.

    The experiment began by recording 83 children at the age of three, while their mothers or fathers asked them about six events that the children had experienced in recent months, such as a trip to the zoo or a birthday party.

    “We asked the parents to speak as they normally would to their children,” Bauer says.

    She gives a hypothetical example: “The mother might ask, ‘Remember when we went to Chuck E. Cheese’s for your birthday party?’ She might add, ‘You had pizza, didn’t you?’”

    The child might start recounting details of the Chuck E. Cheese experience or divert the conversation by saying something like, “Zoo!”

    Some mothers might keep asking about the pizza, while another mother might say, “Okay, we went to the zoo, too. Tell me about that.”

    Parents who followed a child’s lead in these conversations tended to elicit richer memories from their three-year-olds, Bauer says. “This approach also related to the children having a better memory of the event at a later age.”

    After recording these base memories, the researchers followed up with the children years later, asking them to recall the events that they recounted at age three. The study subjects were divided into five different groups, and each group of children returned only once to participate in the experiment, from the ages of five to nine.

    While the children between the ages of five and seven could recall 63 to 72 percent of the events, the children who were eight and nine years old remembered only about 35 percent of the events.

    “One surprising finding was that, although the five-and-six year-old children remembered a higher percentage of the events, their narratives of these events were less complete,” Bauer says. “The older children remembered fewer events, but the ones they remembered had more detail.”

    Some reasons for this difference may be that memories that stick around longer may have richer detail associated with them and increasing language skills enable an older child to better elaborate the memory, further cementing it in their minds, Bauer says.

    Young children tend to forget events more rapidly than adults do because they lack the strong neural processes required to bring together all the pieces of information that go into a complex autobiographical memory, she explains. “You have to learn to use a calendar and understand the days of the week and the seasons. You need to encode information about the physical location of the event. And you need development of a sense of self, an understanding that your perspective is different from that of someone else.”

    She uses an analogy of pasta draining in a colander to explain the difference between early childhood and adult memories.

    “Memories are like orzo,” she says, referring to the rice-grained-sized pasta, “little bits and pieces of neural encoding.”

    Young children’s brains are like colanders with large holes trying to retain these little pieces of memory. “As the water rushes out, so do many of the grains of orzo,” Bauer says. “Adults, however, use a fine net instead of a colander for a screen.”

    Now that Bauer has documented the onset of childhood amnesia, she hopes to hone in on the age that people acquire an adult memory system, which she believes is between the age of nine and the college years.

    “We’d like to know more about when we trade in our colanders for a net,” she says. “Between the ages of 9 and 18 is largely a no-man’s land of our knowledge of how memory forms.”
    https://esciencecommons.blogspot.com...-earliest.html

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    After discussing using some events with my mom when she was alive I confirmed I have a few memories that must date from around 1 year old. I have several from 2-3 years old, then a long gap, picking up at age 5. It's unusual to have such early memories, but I apparently do.
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    It is true to some extent that a child’s ability to verbalise about an event at the time that it happened predicts how well they remember it months or years later. One lab group conducted this work by interviewing toddlers brought to accident and emergency departments for common childhood injuries. Toddlers over 26 months, who could verbalise about the event at the time, recalled it up to five years later, whereas those under 26 months, who could not talk about it, recalled little or nothing. This suggests that preverbal memories are lost if they are not translated into language.
    I'm not so sure this holds true. Could just be that the ability to remember words (which is what learning a language is all about) is interconnected with the ability to remember events (i.e. forming memories).
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    I remember my early childhood.

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    I have distinct memories beginning around the age of two and continuing up to the present.

    It is claimed that our short term memory erodes as we age, and that might be true for some. But our long term memories normally remain clear unless disrupted by some form of catastrophic illness.

    Anecdotage is the term applied to those who excessively reflect on the past.
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    Like others have already stated, I remember my (very) early childhood quite well, especially somewhat traumatic events, like visiting the hospital, for instance.
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    If something special and different is happening when you are very young, I think you might remember that. I remember my second birthday party and the move we made to a new apartment complex at that time. I can also remember those apartments in detail, playing with other kids there, making a slinky go down the stairs, eating frosting off the mixer beaters in the kitchen. I could even draw you a floor plan of the apartment. And we only lived there for a year. So, many memories from age 2, but I can't remember anything before that.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Huginn ok Muninn View Post
    If something special and different is happening when you are very young, I think you might remember that.
    I think you're quite right, Huginn ok Muninn. I have memories of the Bicentennial, and I even think some of the events associated with the celebrations started in 1975.
    'Well, what are you?" said the Pigeon. "I can see you're trying to invent something!" "I-I'm a little girl," said Alice, rather doubtfully. She found herself at last in a beautiful garden, among the bright flower-beds and the cool fountains.



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    *Has past life flashback.*

    Now I've got you all beat.

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