Essay on Memory. The Analysis of Infantile Amnesia

Humans tend to retain few memories of events that occurred during their first few years of life, this concept has been named Infantile Amnesia. In class, we learned that on average the earliest memories seem to be at age 3. I chose to discuss this article because I am extremely interested in infantile amnesia and memory as a whole. Furthermore, I have decided to do my research project on infantile amnesia, so the information from this article will aid me in formulating appropriate questions for the project. It is fascinating for me to read about a topic that is not fact but instead a combination of theories about concepts that can’t be proven yet, such as infantile amnesia or the storing of long-term memory.

The article that I have chosen shows that previous research on infantile amnesia suggests that individual differences, such as culture, and the methodology of the study influence how early patients are able to recall their first memories. Also, Young children can recall events (especially traumatic ones) from when they were 2 or 3, thus 2 and 3-year-olds have well-functioning memory systems. However, adults seem unable to recall events from events this early in their lives. Because of this, many suggest that the boundary of childhood amnesia seems to increase as you grow older, for example, a 7-year-old’s earliest memory is of a time when they were 4-years-old while an 18-year-old’s earliest memory is of when they were 6-years-old.

Issues identified in the previous studies were that most infantile amnesia research was done on adults, who seem to lose their ability to recall events from their early childhood as they grow older. Also, many of the events that researchers asked participants to recall were important family events that were nominated by parents and usually heavily discussed, videotaped, or kept as pictures. This may lead to an underestimation of the forgetfulness of the children because they were constantly reminded of the event. In contrast, when children are asked to identify their own earliest memories, they are often not ones of heavy family importance, but parents often don’t recall or didn’t experience these events with the child so the accuracy of these events can’t be confirmed. However, the detail of these events is often so meticulous that researchers are convinced that these are genuinely the earliest memories of the children. As a result, this method seemed to accurately assess a child’s earliest memory. Based on this information, the main study discussed in this article concluded that they had to perform a longitudinal study on children, who are asked to identify their own earliest memories, to observe the differences of infantile amnesia as children grow.

The researcher believes that this study is the first longitudinal study of infantile amnesia and looks at the consistency of earliest memories over time. Children were first asked to identify their earliest memories, then 2 years later those same children were interviewed to see if they recalled the same earliest memories (both event and content) or if these memories changed over time. The methodology of this study separated children into age groups and then children were asked about their earliest memories. Parents were then asked separately to verify the memory’s accuracy if possible. The children’s memory of both the event and their age during the event was found to be remarkably accurate. Results of this study suggest that older children, between 10 and 13-years-old, were more likely to consistently recall the same earliest memory 2 years later than younger children, between 4 and 7-years old. Older children were also more likely to recognize forgotten memories when cued compared to younger children. Therefore, memories that occurred when a child was younger seem to be less stable and more likely to be forgotten over time. While older children’s earliest memories seem to be more stable and less likely to be forgotten (although they may have difficulty recalling them and need cues). Older children were also more likely to have the same content in their recalled memories 2 years later, compared to younger children who were likely to recall different (but not contradictory) details about their same earliest memory. There was little to no contradictory information reported between the memories recalled both initially and 2 years later. Also, the majority of children of all ages were able to correctly identify false memories.

This article challenges the theory we learned in class, that memory develops through language development because language helps encode memory. If young children are able to recall seemingly meaningless memories as early as 2-years-old, then this challenges the language theory of memory development due to children at this age having developed only a few words of language at best. By following the language theory of memory development, children at 2-years-old with only a few words of language should not be able to recall salient and detailed memories, such as 9/11 or breaking an arm, as seen in this article. Therefore, the data in this article is contradictory to the language theory of memory development. While this article does not make any claims as to how a child is able to recall a memory from a time before they had sufficient language development, I believe the heightened emotions involved in these salient memories is the reason for their encoding. Due to the intense levels of emotions (such as sadness, fear, or happiness) involved in memories such as 9/11, breaking an arm or the birth of a child, this may cause a child to focus on and encode these memories even at an extremely early age (such as 2-years-old).

Also, the data in this article suggests that over time children’s memory improves and becomes more stable. Therefore, this article supports theories discussed in class such as; children do not have enough space in their working memory to retain memories for long periods, or memory improves with age because we continue to learn and improve concepts such as metamemory and metacognition. As children grow and develop their memory, either through increasing working memory capacity or by learning, they are able to better process and retain memory which explains and supports the data found in this article.

Both the theories discussed in class and Piaget’s theory of child development, which believed children were active participants in their own development, support the data found in this article. As children progress through Piaget’s stages of development, Piaget believed that children actively developed more abstract thinking through their interactions with their society and environment (thus teaching themselves). The development of abstract thinking is seen when progressing from the concrete operations stage to the formal operations stage in Piaget’s theory. The results in this article, which showed that older children seemed to have greater memory development and retention, can be explained using the development of abstract thinking discussed in Piaget’s theory by using one of the theories discussed in class. This theory states that an increase in learning about memory or memory strategies (such as metamemory and metacognition, which are examples of abstract thinking), leads to memory development. Therefore, as a child grows and actively develops their abstract thinking (Piaget’s theory), they improve upon concepts such as metamemory and metacognition, which according to the theory discussed in class, helps with memory development. This explains the results seen in this article that suggest that older children (due to developing abstract thinking) are better able to retain memories (22 kids in the 13-15-year-old group had consistent earliest memories compared to only 2 kids in the 4-6-year-old group). Since the results of this article support Piaget’s stages of child development, it must also support the idea that children are active participants in their own development, which Piaget believed is the method through which children progress through the different stages. However, both this article and Piaget fail to consider children with disabilities, such as Autism, when studying and theorizing about memory and child development. How would various genetic disabilities affect memory development?

Lastly, in class, we discussed how socioeconomic status may impact infantile amnesia because higher socioeconomic families typically have more frequent and unique vacations. For example, higher socioeconomic families may go on vacations all over the world while lower socioeconomic families can typically only afford to vacation at few spots close to home. Through constantly being exposed to new and unique environments, children of higher socioeconomic status may start to develop memory faster. In contrast, children of lower socioeconomic status are more likely to stay in the same environment, and thereby become desensitized to it and develop memory slower. By failing to consider or take into account socioeconomic status, the data in this article may falsely be attributed to other aspects of the children such as age. Therefore, by using class material I was able to both support and identify flaws regarding the data in this article.


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