Infant Amnesia: Definition, Theories, Implications and Explanations.

Amnesia child, also called amnesia in children, is the inability of adults to recover memories. Episodic are memories of specific events (times, places, emotions associated and other contexts, who, what, when, and where) before the age of 2-4 years, as well as the period before age 10, of which adults retain fewer memories than might otherwise be expected over time.

Some also see the development of a cognitive self as an effect on the encoding and storage of early memories. Some research has shown that children can remember moments or events from the age of 1, but these memories can diminish as children get older.

Most psychologists differ on the definition of compensation for childhood amnesia. Some define it as the age from which a first memory can be recovered. Changes in memory encoding, storage, and retrieval during early childhood are essential when considering childhood amnesia. Other research shows differences between gender and culture, which are implicated in language development.

Childhood amnesia is significant when considering false memories and brain development in the early years. Proposed explanations for childhood amnesia are Freud’s theory of trauma, neurodevelopment, cognitive self-development, emotion, and language.

What about the first memories?

Children are unique because of how they grow, learn and how much they learn from birth to five years of age. According to an article from the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, children have developed approximately 85% of their “intellect, personality, and abilities by the time they are five years old.” Children are little sponges born ready to learn everything their environment has to teach them.

But there is one factor in the development that has always puzzled researchers. Although children learn a tremendous amount from a very young age, they cannot remember how they acquired the knowledge they have as they grow older.

Infantile amnesia is the average person’s inability to remember anything that happened to them before the age of three or four. Although some outliers (people who defy the average statistical model) will retain memories of when they were babies, most people cannot remember the events during their early years.

Theories of infantile amnesia.

Why are memories acquired in childhood beyond memory in adulthood? This question has caused much debate, and various theories have been put forward to explain this phenomenon. As these theories approach childhood amnesia from different research traditions, they are thrown at varying levels of analysis (but not necessarily mutually exclusive).

Human cognitive/psychological theories

Human psychological theories emphasize that the ability to form lasting memories in humans coincides with the emergence of developmental milestones, such as acquiring a sense of “self,” theory of mind, or language. Certainly, verbal recall can aid memory retention, and self-concept would help humans encode and store lasting personal memories. However, since infantile amnesia is observed in non-human species, it is unlikely that this phenomenon can be fully explained using purely human concepts.

Impaired memory, storage, or retrieval encoding

Information processing theories postulate that childhood amnesia results from impaired memory encoding, storage, and retrieval. Although it makes intuitive sense that if a child never acquires a standard memory, this memory cannot be recalled when the child reaches adulthood, experimental evidence from both human and rodent studies does not fully support this idea.

Other explanations of childhood amnesia focus on memory recall and posit that memories formed in childhood are permanently stored and always exist. Still, these memories cannot be accessed during adulthood.

Biological theories: the “immature brain” versus “ongoing brain maturation.”

The biological or neurological accounts of childhood amnesia highlight two closely related ideas: either that childhood amnesia occurs because the fundamental structures for memory formation and storage are not mature enough at the time of memory formation to process them (“immature brain” theories), that the same continuous maturation process interferes with the stable consolidation of memory (“ongoing brain maturation” theories).

Support for these biological theories comes from the findings that, even though much of the human brain was fully formed at birth, the two critical regions for declarative memory, the cortex, and the hippocampus, show prolonged postnatal development. Some theories that fall into the category of “immature brain” postulate that infantile amnesia comes from the cortex that is not yet “online” in babies. Although the seventh gestational months can observe all six layers of the human cortex, other essential aspects of cortical maturity are not fully understood until puberty and beyond.

Methods of recovery from childhood amnesia

Methods of recovery from childhood amnesia

The memory retrieval method can influence what can be retrieved. Specifically, the referral method produces different results if an individual receives a reminder of a specific event, is given more general guidelines, or is asked to recall any possible memory.

Memory recall

Many studies use memory retrieval to retrieve memories. In its basic form, the experimenter gives the participant a word, and the participant responds with the first memory they think is associated with that word. This method has estimated the clearing age to be approximately 3-5 years, but it can vary.

However, there are several objections to the reference method. A memory is recorded by keyword, so it can be not easy to tell if this memory is your first memory or the first memory that occurred to me. It can be a problem if participants are not asked to record the oldest memory that they can recall that is related to the signal. If the experimenter asks the participant to specifically use childhood memories or older memories associated with a cue, the age estimate can be 2 to 8 years.

Even with this measure, recalling data is only helpful for memories formed several months after that word was introduced into the participant’s vocabulary. The researchers found that younger children need more prompts or cues. However, the first memory recovery was around three years for children and adults.

Free souvenir

Free memory refers to the specific paradigm in the psychological study of memory. Participants study a list of items in a particular test and then are asked to recall the things in any order. As it relates to childhood amnesia, free memory is the process by which experimenters ask individuals for their earliest memories and allow the participant to respond freely.

Exhaustive recall

Participants are asked to record all the memories they can access before a specific age in the exhaustive withdrawal method. Like the free withdrawal, this method relies on participants making up clueless memories. Complete recall offers a better understanding than others of the number of memories that survive early childhood. Still, it can be demanding for subjects which often have to spend many hours trying to recall childhood events. No significant differences were found between keyword, interview, focused, and total recall.

Implications of childhood amnesia


Individuals’ first memories significantly reflect their personality traits. People who reveal a more detailed memory are more likely to be open in their daily lives and disclose various personal information to others. The characteristics of the first memories reflect the kindness of men and the predominance of women. Read more about personality.

Forgotten memories

Even when childhood events are not remembered episodically, they can be remembered implicitly. Humans can be primed and implicitly trained before recalling autobiographical facts or circumstances. This is the essential thing in terms of emotional trauma. In general, adults can remember events for 3 to 4 years and have primarily experiential memories that begin around 4.7.

However, some suggest that adults who had a traumatic and abusive early childhood report compensation for childhood amnesia around 5-7 years. It has been recommended that this is because stressful experiences can damage memory centers and possibly hinder the formation of memories. This, coupled with the fact that priming can occur at an earlier age, may indicate that children in situations with Abusers have implicit memory connections formed in response to the abuse. Whether or not these “repressed” memories can affect individuals is a matter of considerable debate in psychology.

False memories

Very few adults have memories older than 2.5 years. Those who report memories before this age are generally unable to distinguish between personal memory of the event and mere knowledge of the event, which may have come from other sources. Events after the age of 10 are relatively easy to remember correctly, while memories of 2 are mistaken for false images and memories.

Memories from early childhood (around the age of two) are susceptible to false suggestions, making them less reliable. These should be treated with caution, especially if they have serious consequences. Imagining the details of a fake event can lead to false memories.

Studies have shown that people who imagine a childhood event are more likely to believe it happened to them than events they did not imagine. This term has been coined with the inflation of imagination and shows that simply imagining an event can make it seem more plausible that it happened.

Using the same paradigm, people shown a purified photograph of themselves as a child in an event that never happened can create false memories by imagining the event through time. Therefore, this implies that it would be possible to generate and feed false memories in a court case.

Proposed explanations of infantile amnesia


The amygdala (primarily related to emotions and the emotional content of memories) and the hippocampus (mainly refers to autobiographical memories) are generally independent. Still, emotions and the amygdala play a role in encoding memory, which is typically associated with the hippocampus. Research has found that later childhood memories have more propositional and emotional content than earlier memories and are considered more meaningful and vivid. Differences in emotions experienced by infants and adults have been suggested to cause infantile amnesia.

Some studies have found that emotional experiences are linked to faster recovery times, believing that dynamic events have increased accessibility in our memories. If an event is shocking, it receives prioritized processing in the brain, probably due to evolutionary reasons. Evolutionary theory states that if a past event was particularly scary or disturbing, a similar situation is likely to be avoided, significantly if it is endangering one’s well-being.


One possible explanation for childhood amnesia is the lack of neurodevelopment in the childhood brain, which prevents the creation of long-term autobiographical memories. The hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, two critical structures in memory neuroanatomy, do not become mature structures until three to four years of age. These structures are known to be associated with the formation of autobiographical memories.

The physiological approach seems to support the findings on memory loss about amnesia and other people who have suffered damage to the hippocampus. They cannot efficiently store or recall memories of past events, but they still exhibit perceptual and cognitive abilities and can still learn new information.


Some also consider the development of a cognitive self to affect the encoding and storage of early memories substantially. As young children grow, a sense of self-development begins to emerge, realizing that they are people with unique and defining characteristics and have individual thoughts and feelings separate from others.

As they gain a sense of themselves, they can begin to organize autobiographical experiences and retain memories of past events. This is also known as the development of a theory of mind that refers to a child’s acceptance that they have beliefs, knowledge, and thoughts that no one else has access to.

The developmental account states that young children have a good concept of semantic information but lack the retrieval processes necessary to link past and present episodic events to create an autobiographical self.


Incomplete language development in young children is a critical cause of childhood amnesia, as children do not yet have the language ability to encode autobiographical memories. The typical schedule of language development seems to support this theory. There appears to be a direct correlation between language development in children and the earliest age at which we can obtain childhood memories (around 3-4 years).

Performance on verbal and non-verbal memory tasks shows that children with more advanced language skills can report more during an oral interview and exhibit superior non-verbal memory than children with less developed language skills. If children lack language, they cannot describe childhood memories because they do not have the words and knowledge to explain them.

Georgia Tarrant
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Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.