Memory

Why can't we remember being born?
Answered by Ellen Stockstill and Science Channel
  • Ellen Stockstill

    Ellen Stockstill

  • Science Channel

    Science Channel

  1. Although there have been some reports of children and adults remembering their births, most of us are completely unable to remember that critical moment in our lives.  While scientific understanding of infant memory is still in its infancy, researchers have discovered that infants are able to remember more than we previously thought.  Infant memory works in essentially the same way that adult memory does.  As adults experience things, they create certain associations with the experiences -- these associations are memories.  Babies, it turns out, do the same thing.

    Then what makes babies different?  Scientists have found that as we develop, we learn to link the central and contextual details of an experience together in a particular balance [source: Jones and Herbert]. This balance, it seems, helps us recall an experience from the past.  It's possible then that babies lack the ability to place central and contextual details in a hierarchy, and thus their ability to recall those memories as they age is greatly diminished. 

    Other research has found that babies can remember things more long-term if they have repeated exposure to them [source: Bearce and Rovee-Collier].  If, for example, a baby sees or hears something only one time, he or she will not remember it.  However, if the baby is reminded of that something, it's possible for the infant to recall it.  Take a three-month-old baby girl.  If you were to show her a teddy bear once, she would forget seeing it.  If you showed it to her a few hours later, and then the next day, and then again at intervals further apart, she might actually remember the teddy bear for life. 

    Scientists still have a lot more to learn about infants' recollective abilities, but perhaps the need for infants to experience something more than once in order for them to remember it answers our question.  We're only born once in a lifetime.  Without repeated exposure to our births, perhaps this memory slips away since we never learn to recognize it. 

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  2. Researchers have only just begun to investigate children's memory capabilities and have yet to find an exact reason why childhood amnesia occurs. In fact, research on childhood amnesia in the past few decades has introduced more questions about the complex details of how childhood memory works.

    For a long time, researchers believed that childhood amnesia was because babies' brains are not fully developed until they are 3 years old, after which memory functions develop rapidly to adult levels. However, psychologists now say that children as young as 3 months old are capable of forming long-term memories. They say, however, that only those memories that are implicit or unconscious will last. Explicit or episodic memories, like the memory of our own birth, don't make it past the age of 3.

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