What is childhood amnesia and how long does it last?

Have you ever wondered why it is so difficult to remember episodes from the first years of life? It’s about infantile amnesia; find out here why it happens and how long it lasts

Last update: December 17, 2021

Infantile amnesia refers to periods of early childhood that cannot be remembered. It covers up to approximately 3 or 4 years of age and there are various arguments put forward by specialists about the reasons why this absence of memories occurs.

You may have wondered why you cannot have clear memories of your early years or doubts about the real origin of that image from the first day of preschool. You do not know for sure if you remember it or if it corresponds to a story told by an adult or an image that you have loaded, then, of meaning.

To that Difficulty storing moments lived in early childhood clearly in memory It is also known as “childhood amnesia.” Find out what it is about.

What is infantile amnesia?

Childhood amnesia lasts until about 7 years of age.

Amnesia is defined in the Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy (DRAE) as “notable loss or weakness of memory.” In the specific case of the term infantile amnesia, it is used to describe the inability to preserve memories of the early years. That is to say, the absence of memories of the experiences lived from infants to approximately 4 years of age.

From the field of biology, according to a study on infantile amnesia and autobiographical memory, the area where memory develops is the prefontal cortex, although the inferior temporal cortex and the amygdala are also related.

The issue of how it is produced and why has been the subject of outstanding research by scholars of the human mind. Such is the case of Sigmund Freud and Jean Piaget, who approach theories from different perspectives that help to unravel the selective mechanisms that memory performs at this stage.

How long does childhood amnesia last?

It is estimated that a 3- or 4-year-old child is capable of remembering past moments, but that these, as the child grows and his brain develops, will be forgotten. It is this action of suppressing memories in memory that is called infantile amnesia.

The child who is already speaking may refer to recent experiences and others not so close that they amaze their parents. However, there is research that indicates that, over the years, those memories disappear, at least consciously, although they remain as traces in the psyche.

When some of these memories are fixed in the memory, it is often due to an event that brings them back in time.. Be it a video recording, an audio or a photo, and it allows them to stay consciously in mind. In any case, it is the product of a manipulation before the natural course of memory construction.

Of those gaps made of forgetfulness that make up infantile amnesia or childhood amnesia, there is greater awareness especially from adolescence, since it is the adolescent or the adult who cannot recover those early experiences.

But nevertheless, it is very likely that not everything experienced in the first years will disappear, but will return in adulthood with sensory stimuli that transport you to a previous experience. Sometimes the blurriness of a childhood memory leaves you with a vague sense of deja vu when you visit a place, for example, that you frequented before the age of 3.

Can children remember?

Children do have memories, only some do not stick over time. It is around the age of 7 that they begin to retain more accurate memories. This is because the brain reaches a neuronal maturity that allows it a type of organization of memories in memory that makes them durable.

Age coincides with the stage of development of concrete operations, described by the Swiss epistemologist and biologist Jean Piaget to refer to the set of logical operations for which the human being is trained at that time.

And prior to this, Piaget, who devoted much of his life to investigating the progress of the mind in childhood, characterized two other stages directly implicated in the years associated with childhood amnesia. The first, “sensorimotor”, which goes from 0 months to 2 years and the next, called “preoperative”, which ranges from 2 to 7 years.

Childhood amnesia or hidden memories?

Memories of early childhood are often associated with photos, videos, or stories.

Sigmund Freud speaks of “hidden memories” in childhood to explain the mechanisms of forgetting that memory can perform, even that of the early years. Such amnesia overlaps transcendental memories of life with other less significant ones or, simply, they are omitted, but they persist somewhere in the unconscious. Without a doubt, because they are triggers for emotions that have been very significant.

Similarly, some of these early childhood memories sometimes correspond more to ‘childhood associated’ memoriesEither because they depend to a great extent on the stories of the adults who were close to us or because they are reconstructed from a story that has been told repeatedly.

The French psychoanalyst and pediatrician Fraçoise Dolto has also narrated in a book entitled Childhoods your own testimony on how a memory of this stage can be presented. In this he reveals the possibility that reminiscences or screen memories of the early years remain in his memory.

In her description, she was presented with disjointed images of a place that, according to the psychoanalyst, she had to complement with the help of her mother because what had been stored was closer to the fragment than to the complete scene.

What do you remember from early childhood?

Finally, what things do you or do not remember from early childhood and why is it a question that does not have a single answer and is more complex than it seems at first glance.

Infantile amnesia is related, on the one hand, to the immaturity of the brain to process and maintain images clearly. in the time. And, on the other hand, due to the impossibility of naming the experience.

These experiences, according to a study on representation and memory at the University of Granada, are part of what researchers have called «implicit memory», a kind of primitive memory that begins to form in a stage prior to the acquisition of language and that it lasts beyond childhood amnesia.

Implicit memory stores memories associated with senses such as smell and that embody strong and continuous feelings that, although they do not remain clear, do not disappear. In the world of art and literature, delving into that question can become the key reason why a work arises.

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