Why do we not remember being a baby?

What’s your earliest memory? Your first day at nursery? Your younger sibling being born? Your 3rd birthday party?

Laurel, from the Children of the 2020’s study team, recalls that her first memory was from when she was about 3-years-old, having a whale of a time on a spring rocking horse at the local playground with her older brother. Our study director, Pasco’s first memory was from when he banged his head on a shop window and had to have stitches. He was about 3 and a half. Although it might sound like a scary memory, actually the most vivid aspect was of the nurses handing him his stitches in a little matchbox after they had taken them out – he was well chuffed! The age at which these early memories occurred is quite typical, considering most people are unable to remember anything that happened before the age of 2 or 3.

Our inability to remember events from the first few years of life is called infantile amnesia. And scientist are still not certain as to why this phenomenon happens, though there are a few theories.  

One theory is that the region of the brain that is responsible for storing these memories is not sufficiently developed until about 2 years old. Another is that before the age of two, humans do not have a developed sense of self – this is demonstrated using the Rouge Test which we will cover in another article in a few weeks. A sense of self is thought to be crucial when forming memories about your own experiences. And a third theory is that before the age of 2 years, language is not sufficiently developed to explain the experience in a way that can be later recalled.

These kinds of memories are what we call autobiographical memories – memories of events that a person has experienced. But just because we cannot recall these types of memories from infancy this doesn’t mean babies don’t have them. And, it certainly doesn’t mean they can’t form other kinds of memories. In fact, we know they do, because they are learning so much during this time, about routines, words, language, the people around them. We will cover other memories your baby may be forming in our next article.

In the meantime, tell us “What’s your earliest memory?” in the monthly activity on the home page of the app!

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