I Don’t Remember Being A Baby: Infantile Amnesia

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.


7 thoughts on “I Don’t Remember Being A Baby: Infantile Amnesia

  1. swong

    I have always wondered which of my older memories are actual memories, and which ones are stories my parents told me. I think I remember a nightmare I had when I was two, but it is a story I have heard numerous times. I remember sitting outside with my third grade class while my teacher read Charlotte’s Web, but do I actually remember it, or do I remember the story I have told repeatedly? I think that the explanation that short-term memory plays a large role in this is interesting. It makes sense, and I cannot believe I had not thought of it!

    It would be interesting to find a way to figure out whether a memory is actually a memory, or if it is just something that was constructed from a combination of schemata and stories. This makes me question how different life would be if I was able to remember events from before I was three. If I remembered walking or reading for the first time, would it be more rewarding to do those activities?

    They way we function, and remember, is so much different now than it was when we were infants, and I have always found it fascinating how and when that change occurs. What happens at the age of three or four that allows us to begin to remember events? How is that age any different than two and a half? This is definitely something I would want to learn more about in the future.

  2. jesseboles

    The fact that we cannot remember are early years in life is really interesting. As I was reading you article I started to wonder if this also applies to animals. I figure it does, but I am now curious as to if there is a big difference between infant amnesia in humans compared to animals, or if one subjects has infant amnesia for a longer period of time.

    As well as the development of these questions while reading your article, I also reflected on the time my professor taught me about infant amnesia. A few people in my class also raised their hand claiming to have memories of their infant years. My professor shot them down just like yours did. I feel like I have very vivid memories of me as a baby but in reality it is just me thinking of stories I was told. I enjoyed reading your article, it was really interesting and I liked how you compared infant amnesia to what we learned about in class about memory.

  3. njohns

    My question is what about attachment styles? A baby seems to remember how their mother/main caregiver treats them because their attachment type can affect someone to adulthood. Maybe we’re unable to remember certain events as babies but maybe have memories based on what you felt during certain experiences There’s definitely a lot more to learn. I enjoyed your post!

  4. Ellie Benning

    This is something I have always found interesting because it is talked about in most psychology classes. When you think about it, it does make sense logically but it is kind of scary to think about. That is because of something we will talk about which is memory bias. Since we do not remember events from a long time ago and only remember it from stories then maybe some of these stories from our childhood are “tainted” and not all true. This could be because the person that told you about this event, your parents perhaps, are shaky on some of the details as well. This is crazy to think that most of our childhood we do not know and aren’t sure exactly what is true.

  5. ewhitese

    So during the summers I work at a daycare center with children all under the age of three. I will have days that I randomly think about when they are my age they won’t remember me. They might remember stories their parents will tell them or pictures. This shocks me until I realize that I don’t remember anything from when I was that young. This explanation makes logical sense for why young children can’t recall early childhood memories.

  6. jcarey

    When I took infant and child, we talked about how babies do have some primitive memory abilities like object permanence. They also trust their mothers, which leads us to believe that they remember past times that their mother has protected them in some way. I find it interesting that these primitive abilities are never really talked about; we only focus on the fact that we don’t remember anything now from when we were babies. In reality, I think when we are babies, our memory systems are not fully developed because our neural connections are not fully developed, but in some ways, babies do have to have memory systems in order to learn new things. The physiological part of the development of the brain kind of blows my mind because we are constantly trying to make our neural connections more efficient from the time we are born. Very interesting topic and well written post.

  7. bryanvillalobos

    Thank you so much for writing about this topic. I have always been intrigued by this phenomenon and I am glad to finally be able to know the name of it and the scientific reasoning behind it. Your analysis was easy to follow and very interesting. One element that helped me better understand the concept was your house renovation analogy. Anyway, as terrible as it sounds, infantile amnesia makes me wonder if taking children under three on extravagant vacations is even worth it. For example, my parents took me to Disney World when I was three years old and I do not remember a single thing about it. Would it be better to wait until a child is a little older to take them on big and expensive vacations so that maybe they will actually be able to recall the experience later in life?

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