My three year old niece has a near photographic memory for games we played months ago, people she only met once not too long ago, and books she hasn’t picked up in weeks. However, soon all of that will disappear. By the time she is eight, she will remember almost nothing of the first few years of her life. And by the time she is eighteen, even though she will will retain the language and habits learned the earliest years will almost be a complete blank when it comes to episodic memories. This normal loss of early memories is called infantile amnesia, or childhood amnesia. Infantile amnesia is defined as the inability of adults to recollect these early personal memories (Alberini, C. M., & Travaglia, A. 2017, June 14). According to an NBC News article, a new study suggests that children forget things due to the rapid growth of nerve cells in the hippocampus, the brain region responsible for filing new experiences into long-term memory.
Why are early memories rapidly forgotten? Various explanations have been offered, but most modern theorists, believe that the key to forgetting lies in the early development of the brain itself. It has always been suspected that the hippocampus had something to do with the puzzle, it matures slowly making it hard for two or three year olds to store memories for long periods of time. As the hippocampus matures, huge numbers of new neurons arrive and during this reconstruction it is thought that the brain “forgets” where it previously stored its memories. To support this theory, a scientist gathered up some baby mice and slowed down the rate at which new neurons formed in their hippocampus. With this, the mice were now able to form long term memories and remember how to get through a maze they were taught days ago, when they normally the mice couldn’t. The hippocampus has two jobs: to record every event that happens to a person and then to file that recording away in long-term storage, with labels that allow the person to retrieve it when needed. With all the energy spent making new neurons, the filing never gets done in children (Caroll, L. 2013, May 14).
Recently there was a study using rats to investigate their infantile amnesia. It has been widely documented in humans, rodents and other organisms that hippocampal-type learning used to make memories, takes longer to develop than memory systems that affect one’s thoughts and behaviors. During the beginning phase of development, recollection of factual information, previous experiences, and concepts, can be obtained and expressed over the short term, but their retention deteriorate quite rapidly (Alberini, C. M., & Travaglia, A. 2017, June 14). In this task, the rats learned to avoid an object using a footshock. Some were presented with the task every day, others only once a week. If a reminder shock was delivered days after a context exposure, the rats were no longer amnesic, but instead expressed a vigorous and long-lasting memory. This memory reinstatement suggests that information about the original experience encountered during the period of infantile amnesia was indeed stored and that later reminders of that experience could bring back the memory (Alberini, C. M., & Travaglia, A. 2017, June 14).
Understanding infantile amnesia has answered a lot of questions for child psychologists, scientists and researchers. No matter how important or memorable an event can be, it is nearly impossible for children under the age of three, to remember said event. Early experiences are important for development, knowing how and what babies are learning helps interventionists discuss why sensitive and responsive care is essential to development and relationships. These articles explained why we don’t remember everything that happened to us a young child, that part of our brain that keeps track of our memories is not fully developed. Research in this area has come a long way, there was a point where scientists had no idea how or why this loss of memory occurred. Today, scientists are working on ways to retrieve that memory from our brains.