Do you remember playing with your dolls or some other toys maybe when you were very, very young? Do you remember a picture of it? Those early memories are powerful because they shape the adults that we become. Of course, some cultural differences in parenting style have an impact on what we remember today from our childhood.
People usually do not have memories from the first three to five years of our lives. In fact, when we try to remember and think back to our earliest memories, it is unclear whether they are real or they are just recollections based on stories of our family members or may be based on photos from that early period.
This phenomenon is called childhood amnesia or infantile amnesia
The childhood amnesia has been a big puzzle for psychologists, for more than a century.
It may seem that the reason we cannot remember being babies is that infants do not have a fully developed memory. But did you know that babies as young as six months can form both short-term memories that last for a few minutes, and long-term memories that last for several weeks, if not even months? Yes, that is correct.
Why does the childhood amnesia occur?
There are various explanations. Developmental changes in fundamental memory processes or changes in encoding and storage of memories during early childhood have been put forward as an explanation for the phenomenon of the childhood amnesia. These processes involve a few brain regions and include forming, maintaining and retrieving the memory.
One more factor plays a role in this puzzle, and that would be the language. From the ages of one to five, children progress from the one-word stage of speaking to becoming fluent in their native language, so there are considerable changes in their verbal ability that overlap with the childhood or infantile amnesia period. And there we have the Freud’s theory that childhood amnesia is caused by repression of traumatic memories occurring in the child’s early psychosexual development.
On the other side, modern theorists claim that the key to forgetting lies in the early development of the brain itself. While young children and infants seem able to recall information for weeks or months, linking those memories to verbal cues is more difficult.
And, there also appear to be sex differences in infantile amnesia. Girls seem to be better able to recall early memories than boys.
Early memories are hidden, but they leave traces that influence our behavior
However, what is important to remember is that, even if we cannot remember specific events from when we were very young, their accumulation leaves lasting traces that influence our behavior. Keep in mind that children learn as they grow older and that the ability to remember is a skill that develops with time.