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Why It’s Difficult to Remember Things That Happened to Us Before the Age of 4

They say our personalities are shaped in our childhood, but how ironic is it that we can barely remember anything from our early years? This phenomenon can be applied to almost all people and even has an official term — childhood amnesia. As we grow up, we forget the people, events, and even places we’ve encountered as kids.

There’s still a lot of active research on this topic, but we at Bright Side summarized the most relevant information down below.

What childhood amnesia is and when it occurs.

Childhood amnesia is the inability of adults to recall the details of events or even full events that happened to them before the age of 4. Some researchers went even further and found that children before the age of 7 are able to remember “60% or more of their early-life events,” while 8 and 9-year-olds could only go up to 40%. This allowed them to realize that, as we go through different stages of our development, the less we remember from what preceded it.

Our memories are closely connected to our ability to speak.

One of the theories as to why we don’t store our infant memories is that we couldn’t communicate verbally at the time. When we retrieve a memory, we use words, and we can describe it in a lot of detail which requires language. Most babies don’t start talking before the age of 2, so they’re simply unable to create a cohesive memory.

Our brain development plays a huge role.

Now we’ll talk about the biological explanation of childhood amnesia. As we grow up, our brains are doing a lot of heavy-lifting, so one study concluded that “when brains are busy growing lots of new cells, they don’t store memories that would otherwise be long-term.” In addition, we can’t even physically recall day-to-day events before the age of 3-4, because our episodic memory hasn’t kicked in yet. That is why we’re able to have abstract memories like which park you often went to, but not which ice cream shop your mom took you to that one time.

Our parents severely alter how we recall certain events.

Another study suggests that our parents are able to change our childhood’s narrative. Think about it, we tend to hold on to a memory better if we’re reminded of it, hence we remember the events that our parents consider important. This very same study found that kids recall the same event differently after discussing it with their fathers, as opposed to their mothers. Kids are impressionable, so it’s crucial to help them retain only good memories and perceive them correctly.

It all boils down to what left a lasting impression on us.

A child psychologist says that ultimately, children retain the memories that are filled with emotion, both positive and negative. This finding even allows young kids to provide eyewitness testimonies in court. So chances are if you can recall an early memory, it’s the one that holds the most significance for you and triggers a strong emotional response.

So tell us, what is the earliest memory you have of you as a child? Can you recall at which age your memory became the strongest?

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