Most Childhood Memories Vanish, But Why?

Researchers found you can help your child remember events, like a first trip to the zoo, by discussing it with her in as much detail as possible. i i

hide captionResearchers found you can help your child remember events, like a first trip to the zoo, by discussing it with her in as much detail as possible.

iStockphoto.com
Researchers found you can help your child remember events, like a first trip to the zoo, by discussing it with her in as much detail as possible.

Researchers found you can help your child remember events, like a first trip to the zoo, by discussing it with her in as much detail as possible.

iStockphoto.com

Researchers have long been puzzled by the fact that most adults can't remember anything before age 3 or 4, a phenomenon known as infantile amnesia.

But a recent study in Canada showed that some young children can remember events even before age 2, only to forget those events several years later. Melinda Beck, a columnist and senior editor for The Wall Street Journal, recently explored the findings in a piece called Blanks For The Memories.

The researchers asked 140 children between the ages of 4 and 13 to describe their three earliest memories. "The younger the kids were," McArdle tells NPR's Neal Conan, "the more they remembered from that early, usually amnesia period."

But when they went back and interviewed the children again, two years later, "by the time they reached 10 or so, most of those early early memories were gone." Even when researchers tried to prompt the kids with clues or hints, they couldn't remember them.

One theory, explains McArdle, is that it takes rudimentary language skills for your brain to store and retrieve memories. "We now think that memory is stored in fragments, in all different circuits in the brain," she says. "You sort of have to keep remembering the same scene in order to wear a strong enough pathway in your brain to call it up again."

Retelling a family story can help firm up those pathways. "After a while, you're remembering the memory, rather than the actual event," says McArdle. "But nevertheless, it sticks with you."

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