There is a question: why we do not remember ourselves in early childhood
Most of us do not have memories of the first three or four years of life. Plus, we generally do not remember much about ourselves until seven years. “No, well, I still remember something,” you will say, and you will be absolutely right. Another thing is that, thinking, it can be difficult to understand whether it is a question of real memories or second-order memories based on photographs and parents’ stories.
The phenomenon, known as “children’s amnesia,” for more than a century is a mystery to psychologists without a clue. Despite a huge amount of information that can be used, and technological developments, scientists still can not say for certain why this is happening. Although there are a number of popular theories that seem to them the most believable.
The first reason is the development of the hippocampus
It may seem that the reason why we do not remember ourselves in infancy is that infants and toddlers do not have a fully developed memory . But in fact, adds The Conversation, children aged 6 months can form both short-term memories that last for several minutes, and long-term memories related to the events of recent weeks and even months.
In one study on 6-month-old kids who learned how to press the lever to control the toy train, remembered how to perform this action, within 2-3 weeks after they last saw the toy. And preschool children, according to another study, are able to remember what happened several years ago. But here, experts explain, again the question remains open: these are autobiographical memories or memories obtained with the help of someone or something.
The truth is that the possibilities of memory in childhood are really not the same as in adulthood (moreover, memory continues to develop and in adolescence). And this is one of the most popular explanations for “children’s amnesia”. It is important to understand that memory is not only the formation, but also the maintenance and subsequent extraction of memories. At the same time, the hippocampus – the region of the brain responsible for all this – continues to evolve for at least seven years.
It is also interesting that the typical border of “childhood amnesia” in 3-4 years, apparently, shifts with age. There is evidence that children and adolescents usually have earlier memories than adults. And this, in turn, suggests that the issue may be less related to the formation of memories, but more – with their preservation.
The second reason is language proficiency
The second important factor that plays a role in childhood memories is language. At the age of one to six years, children basically go through a complex process of speech formation in order to speak fluently in their native language (or even languages, if we are talking about bilinguals). Scientists believe that the assumption that the ability to speak affects the ability to remember (here we also attribute the words “remember”, “remember” in the lexicon) is, to some extent, true. In other words, the level of language proficiency at one time or another partially affects how well the child will remember this or another event.
This allows us to say, for example, a study conducted with the participation of toddlers delivered to the emergency room. As a result, children older than 26 months who could tell about the event at that time remembered it and five years later, while children under the age of 26 months who could not speak remembered little and did not remember anything at all. That is, preverbal memories are really more likely to be lost if they are not translated into language.
The third reason is cultural features
Unlike the simple exchange of information, memories revolve around the social function of sharing experiences with others. Thus, family histories support the availability of memory over time, and also increase the consistency of narrative, including the chronology of events, their theme and the degree of emotionality .
Maori, the aborigines of New Zealand, have the earliest childhood memories – they remember themselves at the age of 2.5 years. Researchers believe that this is due to the logical nature of Maori mothers’ narration and the tradition of telling family stories from an early age. Analysis of the data on the subject also shows that adults in cultures that value autonomy (North America, Western Europe) tend to report earlier childhood memories than adults in cultures who value integrity and cohesion (Asia, Africa).