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Author Topic: Why do we not remember clearly from our early years as a child?  (Read 2072 times)

Offline eionmac

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I remember my pram being sold so I was probably about 2 and a half, but not earlier; however we have many stimuluses before that age; so why do we not remember clearly from our early years as a child?


 

Offline David Cooper

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Most of the space used to hold early memories is probably reused over time until there's little or nothing left, and indeed this goes on right through your life with most stuff being forgotten (or merged together with similar memories where the bulk of the action was just a repeat of the same thing). The brain also grows in the early years though and is bound to disrupt old memories in the process. Some memories may be more robustly stored or may be copied by being remembered at the right time(s) such that a new copy is written or the original fortified repeatedly, though with a danger of it being modified in the process.

What is also interesting is the huge difference between different people in how far back they can remember and how much they can remember of being very young. I have a friend who is very similar to me in terms of background and intelligence, but he has only one memory of being under the age of seven. I see that as an extraordinary loss of data, because I couldn't count the memories I have of being under seven, or even five for that matter. I have five memories of being under age two, one of which is almost certainly at or shortly after my first birthday. My sister can remember far back too - she recently proved that she remembered seeing me for the first time when she was a couple of months under two years old, correctly identifying the location where this took place, but completely misremembering why it should have been there, forgetting all about the 125 mile railway journey that took her there in the company of a neighbour (she thought she remembered staying at that neighbour's house for a week or two, but she'd actually been far away with our grandmother and was only at the neighbours house for perhaps an hour).

Anyway, early memories can survive if they're important enough, though even then the less important details tend to be lost. All of my early memories are ones that may well have maintained themselves by being remembered repeatedly throughout the early years, because I can remember clearly in each case that I remembered them many times. All of those memories run with video, sound and detailed internal thoughts, and all involve a significant idea of some kind or other which led to them being sufficiently interesting to be worth preserving.

Even later memories can be substantially misremembered. I have one which I had long thought must have happened when I was 8, but the location was wrong - it turns out that I was actually 4 at the time. I keep being surprised by things like that, but the general tendency has been for me to think I was older than I actually was at the time. The thing that annoys me the most is how I have no memory whatsoever of a holiday on Orkney when I was 2, even though I have such clear memories of some earlier events. We also went to Orkney though when I was 5 and again at 6, so any memories of being on the ferry at 2 (the most likely thing to remember) could easily have merged into those later memories, just as most of the memories of those two later holidays have merged for the most part into one. I must also have remembered at 5 that I had been there before, but don't remember remembering that now, and so it came as a complete surprise to me when I learned about a year ago that I had been there when I was 2.

One point that may be of relevance to all this is that I have never taken drugs and have never been drunk, so my brain may be in a better state than the average person.
 

Offline CliffordK

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It would be interesting to do some kind of an experiment with memory probing to determine one's true memory of early events.  For example something related to Implicit Memory or Priming.

My first memories occur around 1st grade.  Perhaps I should remember the few feet of snow we got when I was 3 years old, but I only know of it by stories.  I do remember a few things including believing in the early 70's that we got a hard freeze every year, and I had a wonderful idea to convert our school's baseball diamond to a skating rink.

One of the issues with early memories may be a word-centric memory.  In the early years, one lacks the words and language, and perhaps the thoughts are very simplistic.   Perhaps some of the visual images would remain, but one might completely lack the index structure necessary to retrieve them.

One of my earliest, and perhaps clearest 1st grade memory has to do with an earache.  It was kind of painful.  I can also remember making the decision myself to finish the day in school and deal with he earache later.  It is also something that I've thought of every once in a while which has reinforced at least some of the memories related to the event.

That does bring up the point that often negative and painful events are the most memorable.  Or, events with strong emotions.

Sometimes I like to watch old TV shows or movies.  Very rarely seeing stuff from gradeschool or earlier, but say watching old star trek episodes, I often have a bit of a Déjà vu feeling, or the answer to a mystery is so obvious that I wonder if it would be obvious to first time viewers.
 

Offline David Cooper

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One of the issues with early memories may be a word-centric memory.  In the early years, one lacks the words and language, and perhaps the thoughts are very simplistic.   Perhaps some of the visual images would remain, but one might completely lack the index structure necessary to retrieve them.

Language is tied up in my earliest memory - I could understand things that were being said to me and could think fully clearly, but I couldn't even begin to generate a sentence. By 12 months old children already understand and think well, and there are demonstrations of this that have been done with children who have been taught to read even under that age. They can be shown a long list of words such as "head", "foot", etc. and will indicate that part of themselves - an ten-month-old girl was used to demonstrate this on TV just a few years ago. There is plenty of understanding going on inside those little heads and they should not be underestimated.

There may be other relevant factors with early memories. We didn't have a TV until I was three.
 

Offline cheryl j

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You probably remember where you went on vacation last year, possibly what you did each day, more than you remember any other week of that month, because what you did was new and different, compared to the rest. But what happens when pretty much everything is new and different? How does something stand out from the rest episodically? Maybe little kids start forming episodic memory when they reach the point where most of what happens during the day is routine and predictable.
« Last Edit: 15/11/2013 03:14:55 by cheryl j »
 

Offline David Cooper

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What we ought to do is collect children's early memories when they're still very young. If you've got an unusually intelligent and articulate three-year-old (or 4 or 5), ask them then what they can remember and how far back they can go, then record whatever they tell you. Give them time to remember things and be ready to collect the data whenever they come to you with something else they've remembered. I know that mainstream science has got things wrong on this issue, making assumptions about what is not possible on the basis that most people can't remember being under two years old and therefore declaring that anyone who can is simply generating false memories. We will get this issue resolved some day in more than one way, but the most convincing will be when the entire early life of a child is recorded as standard and their memories at any point can be compared with the database of what actually happened.
 

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