Over the past month, my daughter, Harper, has become increasingly vocal. Her speech has increased dramatically and she’s amazed her dad and I with how much she is able to remember. Lately, we tell her something just once, or just a couple of times, and she is able to repeat that word and remember it hours and even days later. She’s able to recall her animals and their sounds (cow, chicken, dog, cat, duck, sheep) after being told just once or twice. We even thought her “more” in sign language and some words in Spanish and she was able to recall either after once or twice of just telling her. It’s amazing to think that she’s already a-year-and-a-half and saying phrases such as, “bye, mama” and “hi, doggie.” Until you become a parent, you never truly understand how incredible it is to watch your little baby, now toddler, learn and discover things about the world.

Based on what we have learned during lecture, I started wondering how much of what Harper remembers are implicit memories and how much are explicit memories. As we learned, implicit memories are memories that are recalled without necessarily thinking about them. They are influenced and triggered by previous experiences no matter how long ago they occurred. One way to define implicit memories is by saying that we learn things without awareness—we have that memory stored, but we are not aware that it is a memory. On the other hand, explicit memories involve explicitly retrieving that memory from storage. These types of memories involve actively searching for that memory from the past and recalling it. It shocked me to learn that toddlers do not have explicit memories until they are about three to four years old. In Harper’s case, when we teach her a new word and recalls it weeks after or she sees her sippy cup and remembers that it is usually filled with her, “agua”, she is using her implicit memory.

Remarkably, an article from Today’s Parent mentions that children are actually able to retrieve explicit memories from toddlerhood, however most children forget these memories because they experience something called infantile amnesia. The article mentions that infants are able to experience explicit memories, but are unable to recall them later on in their lives because those explicit memories happened before that child had any language. As children get older, they begin to forget more and more memories from their childhood because of infantile amnesia.

I wonder if Harper will experience this childhood amnesia? Implicit memories are easily recalled because they are automatic, but how will her explicit memories be affected by childhood amnesia? A study done by the Psychology Department at the University of Otago in New Zealand sought to find out more about the childhood amnesia phenomenon. They observed that most children and adults have no recollection of their early childhood. Something that was very puzzling to them was the fact that although learning happens from birth on, yet the memories that are created from this early learning are somehow lost. Here is an excerpt from their findings:

“If forgetting occurs within days or weeks during early infancy, it is hardly surprising that those memories are unavailable when we try to access them after retention intervals of years (or decades)! Over the course of development, however, the forgetting function gradually flattens, increasing the accessibility of a given memory even after very long delays. Furthermore, even after forgetting has occurred, data collected using re- minder procedures has shown that the accessibility of the representation varies dramatically as a function of age. Older infants retrieve their memories more quickly, over longer delays, and once retrieved, maintain them for longer periods of time.”


4 thoughts on “CHILDHOOD AMNESIA

  1. apelduna

    Your post makes me wonder why memories from early childhood are not well retained. Is it a matter of the necessary structures being underdeveloped but as those structures continue to develop, the ability to retain memories improves? Or is it that memories from early childhood are not complex so the resources that would be needed to make those things explicit memories are not wasted on things that can be implicit and just recalled automatically?

    I just watched a couple episodes of a documentary called The Brain with David Eagleman for my blog post. At one point, he discusses how the connectivity between neurons is much greater until a child is about 2. At that point, the connections are pruned. The lesser used pathways are either eliminated or taken over by more frequently used pathways. Essentially, we make lots of connections when we are very young but as we get older, those connections are refined to strengthen the ones that are most important to us and get rid of what we don’t need. I also wonder if this pruning could be related to the patterns of memory seen in children.

    1. kware Post author

      You ask some important questions. The article from Today’s Parent suggested that childhood memories may be complex enough, but the reason why we can’t recall them is because at that age, we lack the language and vocabulary needed to verbally describe those memories. Even young kids who do remember explicit memories are not able to verbalize them with their parents. I’m curious to know if the brain makes us forget explicit memories from childhood in order to make room to remember more important explicit memories as we get older. Like you, I also wonder if one of the reasons why we don’t remember memories when we are younger is because the structures needed for memory, such as the hippocampus, is simply not developed enough.

  2. jesseboles

    I really loved how you shared in your blog post your personal experience with your daughter to better explain implicit and explicit memories. As I read your blog post I become even more curious about childhood amnesia and the details and explanations behind it. I truly enjoyed reading your post. 🙂

  3. mshifflett4

    I really like that you incorporated your daughter into your blog post! I wonder if like you said, children can actually make and create memories but simply can’t recall them? I would like to hear some other results of children around the same age as Harper, and compare their memories and what they remember with Harper’s results just to see if this is a common occurrence or not!

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