In class one day, I remember our professor asked the question, “Who remembers doing something when they were a baby?” I recall one person raising their hand and the professor shot them down by saying, “No, you don’t.” Come to think of it, why is it that we don’t remember what happened when we were younger, yet we can remember things that happened in middle school or even some aspects of elementary school? To be honest, we only remember the stories that people tell us about when we were younger. For example, my parents told me that I did this and that when I was 13 months. I remember them telling me that, but I have no idea of me actually doing what I did 22 years ago.
According to Prigg (2014), memories before the age of three are often never remembered. However, research shows that they may know the answer to this mystery. Growing up is a process of development. We grow physically and mentally. Researchers believe that as we grow older, new brain cells take over the existing cells therefore leading to something called infantile amnesia. Infantile amnesia is the absence of memories that often occur the first three years of our life. Additionally, researchers believe that neurons in the hippocampus impairs memory storage when we reduce the levels of neurogenesis. Throughout the process, new neurons travel into the hippocampus which often interferes with existing memories. As the new neurons move into the hippocampus, they often remodel hippocampal circuits which may lead to destruction of memories that were stored in those circuits. Think of it this way. You’re renovating a house built in the 1800’s, but in order to get the floor plan you anticipated, you often have to destroy old foundation from 200 years ago essentially making a new and improved house. That’s kind of what the new neurons do when they move into the hippocampal circuits as we grow older. In a later study, researchers wanted to determine the sufficient level of neurogenesis in the hippocampus for memory. They discovered that having less neurons in the hippocampus can result in insufficient memory, but they also discovered that having too many neurons in the hippocampus will overwrite what you’re attempting to memorize and will thus lead to forgetting.
To put this into perspective of what we’ve discussed thus far, there are three memory processes: encoding, storage, and retrieval. Memory is not accurate in the details, but we have memories, or recollection, of something happening. The memory process is not a flow chart, although we tend to think that it may be because it makes sense to put it in the order of encoding it, storing it, and retrieving it. For this scenario of an episodic memory (autobiographical memory), it seems like we encode it, but it never makes it to storage as it’s overwritten by new neurons, and therefore we are not able to retrieve it. But what is this memory stored as? Short term memory or long-term memory? Personally, I think that the reason for infantile amnesia is due to the fact that short-term memory plays a role in this. While we were younger, we receive incoming information –> it goes into our sensory memory –> ghoes into our short-term memory + neurogenesis happens + the process of developing –> goes into lost memory. I personally don’t believe that, as infants, we have the capability to rehearse the incoming memory in order to maintain it which results in losing that memory.
As I mentioned earlier in my blog post, why do we remember moments from elementary school? As the brain continues to grow and mature, it allows us to comprehend/internalize certain moments. Our brain is adjusting to memories at a young age that as we develop, that it finally gets the swing of things by storing memory instead of losing it.