Childhood memories are often unreachable for us, at least the most of them. Our farthest memories can go back to the age of three. This phenomenon psychologist Caroline Miles called childhood amnesia in her article “A study of individual psychology”, published in 1893 by the American Journal of Psychology. Since then, the scientists tried to explain it and perhaps find a way to unlock the memories box.
Childhood amnesia refers to the human inability to recall the memories before the age of two to four years. Even if we think we can remember something, it’s hard to distinguish it from reality and the stories that have been told to us. So, in these cases, we are probably creating false memories to fill the memory hole. Despite decades of research, understanding why this childhood amnesia happens remains a mystery.
On the other hand, in the critical time frame, we learned to walk and talk. So the question is why we have not forgotten these fundamental things, yet autobiographical memories seem to have faded. One study tried to explain it with the growth of new brain cells, which caused the long – memory storage been erased as a side effect of the growth process.
The fact that we didn’t forget to walk and talk, lead another group of scientists to have another approach to the problem. If we keep these memories, we must keep other memories, like events, emotions and so on, in some part of the brain. We just need to set right conditions to recall childhood memories.
The Scientists at New York University’s Center for Neural Science conducted research on 17 – 24 day-old lab rats, which are equivalent of a two-year human toddler. The baby rats were trained to associate one side of a box with the feeling of a mild electric shock. Rats, like humans, remember unpleasant or painful experiences that they had in specific places, and then avoid returning to them. The first part of the examination was expected. Although, baby rats showed avoidance of the “shock” box right after the experience they quickly forget it. However, when scientists prompt them reminders in the later life of these rates, they showed they actually had kept a trace of the memory.
The team member Cristina Alberini explains: “Here we show that in rats and experience learned during the infantile amnesia period is stored as a latent memory trace for a long time. Indeed, a later reminder reinstates a robust, context-specific, and long-lasting memory.”
This study didn’t resolve the childhood amnesia itself but reveals something very important. It is the process of active learning that can lead us to the deepest childhood memories.