Memory

What is childhood amnesia?
Answered by Science Channel
  • Science Channel

    Science Channel

  1. It is highly likely that you don't remember your first birthday or anything before your third birthday, and you probably have only a few memories from between the ages of 3 and 7 years old. An adult's inability to remember early life events, including his or her birth, is called childhood amnesia. The term was initially coined infantile amnesia by psychologist Sigmund Freud in 1899 to define the lack of childhood memories in his adult patients, according to David Rapaport, author of the book Emotions and Memory.

    Freud even referred to the phenomenon as "the remarkable amnesia of childhood" [source: Femyhough]. He apparently believed that adults experience childhood amnesia because they are trying to repress sexual urgings and traumas from that time. In fact, Freud suggested that adults develop screen memories, or revised accounts of past events, to protect our conscious egos.

    More recent research from the University of Otago in New Zealand shows that it's more likely that childhood amnesia is a factor of time that's passed. The researchers created and explained timelines to four groups of participants; the youngest group comprised children age 5 years. A second group included 8 and 9 year olds, a third group consisted of young adolescents (12 and 13 years old) and the final group of participants was made up of young adults ages 18 through 20. Researchers asked questions about recent events and then went back in time to ask about events that occurred around age 3 years old, before age 3 and the earliest memory participants could muster.

    More than 20 percent of the children could recall memories from before their first birthdays, but most of the adults' and adolescents' first memories were from after age 3 years old. There was a definite shift in the boundary of childhood memory that matched the participants' current ages [source: Femyhough].

    Research also has shown that young children can store long-term memories, contrary to some theories that say the reason for childhood amnesia is that children's brains simply aren't capable of forming memories at such early ages [source: BBC].



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