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Infantile amnesia: Gauging children's earliest memories

Date:
May 11, 2011
Source:
Society for Research in Child Development
Summary:
Previous research has established that adults experience infantile amnesia -- an inability to recall the earliest years of their lives. Now a new longitudinal study of 140 children ages 4 to 13 explores infantile amnesia in children. In the study, children were asked to recall their earliest memories. Younger children showed more change in recalling earliest memories over time; older children showed more consistency in recalling earliest memories over time.

Early memory of a wheelbarrow ride? In the longitudinal study, researchers asked 140 children ages 4 to 13 to describe their three earliest memories. Two years later, they asked the children again about their earliest memories. The children were also asked to estimate how old they were at the time of each memory. Parents confirmed that the events happened and provided their own estimates of how old their children were at the time of the memories.
Credit: micromonkey / Fotolia

Previous research has established that adults experience infantile amnesia -- an inability to recall the earliest years of their lives. Now a new longitudinal study of 140 children ages 4 to 13 explores infantile amnesia in children. In the study, children were asked to recall their earliest memories. Younger children showed more change in recalling earliest memories over time; older children showed more consistency in recalling earliest memories over time.

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The inability of individuals to remember the very earliest years of their lives, called infantile amnesia, has been studied for many years in adults, who seem to recall very little before ages 3 or 4. But children also experience infantile amnesia -- and a new study out of Canada explores their experiences.

The study was conducted by researchers at Memorial University of Newfoundland and appears in the journal Child Development.

In the longitudinal study, researchers asked 140 children ages 4 to 13 to describe their three earliest memories. Two years later, they asked the children again about their earliest memories. The children were also asked to estimate how old they were at the time of each memory. Parents confirmed that the events happened and provided their own estimates of how old their children were at the time of the memories.

Children who were between 4 and 7 at the first interview showed very little overlap between the memories they recalled the first time and those they remembered two years later, suggesting that very early memories of young children are fragile and vulnerable to forgetting. In contrast, a third of the 10- to 13-year-olds described the same memory as their very earliest when asked two years apart, and more than half of all the memories they provided were the same at both interviews.

"Younger children's earliest memories seemed to change, with memories from younger ages being replaced by memories from older ages," according to Carole Peterson, professor of psychology at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada, who led the study. "But older children became more consistent in their memories as they grew older."

"As we lose those memories of those early years, years that we previously could recall, we're losing part of our childhood -- in essence, we're losing all or almost all of those events that occurred to us then," notes Peterson. "So our 'psychological childhood' begins much later than our real childhood. And most or all of those events that previously were talked about, that caused laughter or tears, are no longer accessible if they occurred in our preschool years."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Society for Research in Child Development. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Carole Peterson, Kelly L. Warren, Megan M. Short. Infantile Amnesia Across the Years: A 2-Year Follow-up of Children’s Earliest Memories. Child Development, 2011; DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2011.01597.x

Cite This Page:

Society for Research in Child Development. "Infantile amnesia: Gauging children's earliest memories." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 May 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110511074803.htm>.
Society for Research in Child Development. (2011, May 11). Infantile amnesia: Gauging children's earliest memories. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 1, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110511074803.htm
Society for Research in Child Development. "Infantile amnesia: Gauging children's earliest memories." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110511074803.htm (accessed February 1, 2015).

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