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Culture & Religion

Where Did Our Infant Memories Disappear To?

Thanks to new discovery tools, pediatricians understand that storing and retrieving memory are two distinct brain functions. The latter develops later on and is unable to access your infant memories.

What’s the Latest Development?

What is your earliest memory? And why can’t you remember anything before that? Thanks to new tools that allow for the investigation of infant brains, pediatricians now believe that memory storage and memory recall are two independent brain functions, the latter emerging at a later stage of development. So while you did store memories as a baby, your recall ability is limited to a smaller set. Charles Nelson, a professor of pediatrics at Harvard and Boston Children’s Hospital, likens the brain to a computer: “When you are working on your computer, you know enough to save things to your hard drive, but do you know enough to retrieve them?”

What’s the Big Idea?

Every adult lacks memories from their infant years. Freud called this phenomenon ‘infant amnesia’ and argued that we suppress our earliest memories because they contain the buds of sexual feeling. That view having long lost sway, today we have a better understanding of how essential memory is in developing language, consciousness, personality and personal narrative. “Infants are not only figuring out a new world, but also coming to understand their own independent existence, what one researcher called ‘me-ness.'” So what is the earliest memory you have?

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