Is infantile amnesia a myth?

There’s a great post from Developing Intelligence looking at research on ‘infantile amnesia’ – the ‘amnesia’ we have for events that happened before about 3 years of age.

It turns out that studies done on young babies, even babies in the womb, have shown that infants have got surprisingly good memory.

As reviewed by Hayne, 3-day-old infants were capable of distinguishing a particular passage (from Dr. Seuss’s “Cat in the Hat”) that had been read to them twice daily for the last 6 weeks of gestation from similar passages (matched for word count, length, and prosody). What’s more, these infants preferred the familiar passage even if spoken by someone other than their mother, strongly suggesting that they had encoded (and retained) a relatively high-level representation of the passage’s auditory content.

The post looks at the mystery of how we have such trouble remembering this period, when psychology studies show that infants’ memory is actually quite good.

Link to ‘The Myth of Infantile Amnesia’.

5 Comments

  1. Posted January 17, 2007 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    Heck, my husband can’t even remember what happened yesterday….

  2. Lee Bryant
    Posted January 17, 2007 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    Babies clearly have a memory – how else would they learn – but I don’t think this proves that later on we can recall much about our life before 2 years old . I know I can’t, but then that’s not saying much as I have cultivated the art of forgetting. I would recommend it ;-)

  3. zearchim
    Posted January 18, 2007 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    That seems to me like a no-brainer. As adults, we think of memory as verbal memory: if we can’t think of a past event in terms of words, we don’t remember it, it’s unconscious. Before 3 years we don’t have the skill nor the desire to store experiences in words, therefore we don’t “remember” them later in life. How can you remember that sour milk you got on your bottle once if at the time you had no word for milk or sour or bottle? At most you’ll have a vague recollection of something unpleasant happening, too vague to bring to consciousness often enough in later years for it to stick.
    (I’m no expert, just a guy who thinks he knows something)

  4. M. Sterling
    Posted January 18, 2007 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Certainly we all have our memory to work with, both auditory as well as visual, but how many cultures even consider the possibility of training infants younger than age two or three in anything other than wimple social skills? (tool usage -spoon for self feeding & only to beat on certain things with it durring feeding time, and some manners – saying thankyou & please) We probably do recall these memories, but because self awareness development it may only be recalled in the first-person instead of third; therefore not considered a memory as much as a skill¬Ö

  5. Sheldon Helms
    Posted September 26, 2007 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    The passage above does not discriminate between Declarative (Explicit) Memory and Non-Declarative (Implicit) Memory. In order for the infants to “prefer” the familiar music they needn’t have formed any Declarative Memory that could later be re-experienced mentally. Their preference could be (and almost assuredly is) based on mere conditioning, a memory process that requires no cognition or re-living of events, much like the skills of walking and talking later on.


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