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Also sometimes called infantile amnesia.

This is the inability to remember anything from early childhood. All humans are victims of this. For most people there are no recallable memories before age 3-4 years. Some, however, have a few memories as early as age two years, if the events were significant enough. For some reason childhood amnesia is so disturbing that some people adamantly deny it. They claim to remember events from the second or even the first year of life. These early memories are not true memories. They are false, merely reconstructions based on photographs, family stories, and ones imagination. It is possible that the “remembered” event never took place at all.

Sigmund Freud thought that childhood amnesia was a form of repression. Today, most researchers agree that repression has nothing to do with it. It is believed now by biological researchers that the reason for childhood amnesia is that the brain areas that are involved in the formation or storage of events, and other areas involved in working memory and decision making, for instance the prefrontal cortex, are not well developed until a few years after birth.

Cognitive psychologists have several explanations for childhood amnesia.

The first of which is a lack of sense of self. How can we have memories of ourselves before we have a sense of who we are? Autobiographical memories do not begin until the emergence of a self-concept, an event that occurs at somewhat different ages for different children, but usually not before age 2 years.

A second reason is poor encoding. Young children encode their experiences far less elaborately than adults do. Young children do not know what is important and interesting to others, therefore have not yet mastered the social conventions for reporting events.

A third cause is a focus on routine. Preschool aged kids focus on the familiar parts of an experience rather than the distinctive aspects that will provide retrieval cues and make an event memorable in the long run.

The fourth is the way children think about the world. Preschools use a cognitive schema quite different than those used by older children and adults. Children don’t learn to think like adults do until after acquiring language and starting school. These new schemas do not include the information and cues necessary for recalling earlier experiences so those memories are lost.

These explanations might provide useful insight into our personalities, current concerns, ambitions, and attitudes toward life.

Psychology 7th Edition by Carole Wade and Carol Tavris
Class notes from Psychology 101

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