Psychologist Vanessa LoBue explores the phenomenon of ‘infantile amnesia’ and why we can’t remember our earliest years.
Whenever I teach about memory in my child development class at Rutgers University, I open by asking my students to recall their very first memories. Some students talk about their first day of pre-K; others talk about a time when they got hurt or upset; some cite the day their younger sibling was born.
Despite vast differences in the details, these memories do have a couple of things in common: They’re all autobiographical, or memories of significant experiences in a person’s life, and they typically didn’t happen before the age of 2 or 3.
In fact, most people can’t remember events from the first few years of their lives – a phenomenon researchers have dubbed infantile amnesia. But why can’t we remember the things that happened to us when we were infants? Does memory start to work only at a certain age?
Here’s what researchers know about babies and memory.
Infants can form memories
Despite the fact that people can’t remember much before the age of 2 or 3, research suggests that infants can form memories – just not the kinds of memories you tell about yourself. Within the first few days of life, infants can recall their own mother’s face and distinguish it from the face of a stranger. A few months later, infants can demonstrate that they remember lots of familiar faces by smiling most at the ones they see most often.
In fact, there are lots of different kinds of memories besides those that are autobiographical. There are semantic memories, or memories of facts, like the names for different varieties of apples, or the capital of your home state. There are also procedural memories, or memories for how to perform an action, like opening your front door or driving a car.
Research from psychologist Carolyn Rovee-Collier’s lab in the 1980s and 1990s famously showed that infants can form some of these other kinds of memories from an early age. Of course, infants can’t exactly tell you what they remember. So the key to Rovee-Collier’s research was devising a task that was sensitive to babies’ rapidly changing bodies and abilities in order to assess their memories over a long period.
In the version for 2- to 6-month-old infants, researchers place an infant in a crib with a mobile hanging overhead. They measure how much the baby kicks to get an idea of their natural propensity to move their legs.
Next, they tie a string from the baby’s leg to the end of the mobile, so that whenever the baby kicks, the mobile moves. As you might imagine, infants quickly learn that they’re in control – they like seeing the mobile move and so they kick more than before the string was attached to their leg, showing they’ve learned that kicking makes the mobile move.
The version for 6- to 18-month-old infants is similar. But instead of lying in a crib – which this age group just won’t do for very long – the infant sits on their parent’s lap with their hands on a lever that will eventually make a train move around a track. At first, the lever doesn’t work, and the experimenters measure how much a baby naturally presses down.
Next, they turn the lever on. Now every time the infant presses on it, the train will move around its track. Infants again learn the game quickly, and press on the lever significantly more when it makes the train move.
What does this have to do with memory? The cleverest part of this research is that after training infants on one of these tasks for a couple of days, Rovee-Collier later tested whether they remembered it. When infants came back into the lab, researchers simply showed them the mobile or train and measured if they still kicked and pressed the lever.
Using this method, Rovee-Collier and colleagues found that at 6 months, if infants are trained for one minute, they can remember an event a day later. The older infants were, the longer they remembered. She also found that you can get infants to remember events for longer by training them for longer periods of time, and by giving them reminders – for example, by showing them the mobile moving very briefly on its own.
Why not autobiographical memories?
If infants can form memories in their first few months, why don’t people remember things from that earliest stage of life? It still isn’t clear whether people experience infantile amnesia because we can’t form autobiographical memories, or whether we just have no way to retrieve them. No one knows for sure what’s going on, but scientists have a few guesses.
One is that autobiographical memories require you to have some sense of self. You need to be able to think about your behavior with respect to how it relates to others. Researchers have tested this ability in the past using a mirror recognition task called the rouge test. It involves marking a baby’s nose with a spot of red lipstick or blush – or “rouge” as they said in the 1970s when the task was created.
Then researchers place the infant in front of a mirror. Infants younger than 18 months just smile at the cute baby in the reflection, not showing any evidence that they recognize themselves or the red mark on their face.
Between 18 and 24 months, toddlers touch their own nose, even looking embarrassed, suggesting that they connect the red dot in the mirror with their own face – they have some sense of self.
Another possible explanation for infantile amnesia is that because infants don’t have language until later in the second year of life, they can’t form narratives about their own lives that they can later recall.
Finally, the hippocampus, which is the region of the brain that’s largely responsible for memory, isn’t fully developed in the infancy period.
Scientists will continue to investigate how each of these factors might contribute to why you can’t remember much, if anything, about your life before the age of 2.
Vanessa LoBue, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Rutgers University – Newark
Mysterious disappearance of a woman who fell into a well
A very strange case occurred in Mexico when people heard a woman’s
scream coming from a well, but rescuers did not find anyone there. And
now they suspect it was a ghost.
creepiest thing is that the screaming woman was heard both by those who
called the rescuers and by the rescuers themselves. And this woman
answered their questions.
The incident happened a few days ago in
the Mexican city of Saltillo. From a narrow sewer well located on the
territory of a certain colony, a local resident heard women’s screams.
And this happened, as stated, at 3:30 am. This time – 3 am or 3:30 am in the culture of many nations is called the Devil’s Hour.
this man came to the nearest hospital, saying that a woman had fallen
into a well and was asking for help. He said the woman told him her name
of the “Violet” security group, who are constantly on duty at this
hospital, immediately went to the scene of the incident. They reached
the indicated well, the depth of which was 6 meters, and one of them
shouted into the dark depths, asking the name of the victim. Everyone
heard a woman’s voice answer “Juanita” from the depths.
this, the rescuers began to shine their lanterns into the well, but they
could not see the person there. Then they called the fire department
and within a few minutes firefighters arrived with special equipment.
lowered a ladder into the well and one of the firefighters went down on
it, but only discovered that it was completely empty and there were no
signs of human presence.
At the bottom of the well there was only a
narrow channel for water, through which even a child, let alone an
adult, could not crawl.
A subsequent search of the area, including
a nearby sewer, for the alleged victim turned up nothing. The rescuers
left the place in complete bewilderment.
When news of this
incident appeared in the media, local paranormal investigator Roberto
Avila claimed that Juanita was the ghost of a woman who had once died
were told that a person died here several years ago. Perhaps this
person still does not realize that he is no longer in the world of the
living, and his spirit still continues to cry out for help.”
also has a theory that in the well there was a “lower being from the
astral plane” who, with his screams, tried to provoke an accident on the
road that passes nearby.
“The lower entity from the astral plane
sits in a place where black waters pass. In these places, portals
regularly appear, which are gates to other dimensions,” says Avila.
“Cursed charity shop painting ruined my life”, says British woman
A British woman purchased a portrait of a young girl from a charity shop and now asserts that the picture is cursed, reports mirror.co.uk.
Elliot-Brown, aged 36, spotted an artwork by an unfamiliar artist at
the Hastings Advice Representation Center in St Leonards-on-Sea, East
Sussex, a month ago.
Simultaneously, the seller cautioned Zoe
about the painting possibly being cursed, revealing that a prior
purchaser of the same artwork had returned it to the store with the
statement “it ruined my life.”
Out of curiosity, Zoe captured an
image of the painting on her smartphone and shared the photo with her
68-year-old mother, Jane Elliot-Brown. Her mother seemed to be entranced
by the painting.
she began urging Zoe to acquire the painting. Yielding to her mother’s
persuasion, Zoe paid £20 for the artwork. However, as soon as she
introduced it into her home, strange occurrences commenced taking place.
Zoe entered her home and positioned the painting in the living room,
their dog named Cilla leaped up and started growling at the artwork.
Cilla deliberately kept her distance, refraining from approaching the
picture. Subsequently, Zoe’s mother’s health took a sharp decline. She
began experiencing alternating spells of fever and chills, requiring her
to wear four sweaters to keep warm.
Concurrently, Zoe’s mother
seemed to be captivated by the painting. She continuously gazed at it
and even caressed the painted girl’s cheek. During the night, she heard
peculiar knocks emanating from the room where the picture hung, despite
the room being unoccupied.
Zoe managed to persuade her mother that
the painting held negative energy and was cursed. However, Jane
staunchly defended the painting, reluctant to part with it.
never seen my mother yearn for something so intensely. She was
entranced by it, but not in a positive manner. She guarded it. She
frequently gazed at it. She ran her fingers over the painted girl’s
cheeks and polished the surface, although the painting didn’t require
“Each time I mentioned disposing of the painting, she
became exceedingly irritable. It transformed into a sort of family
heirloom for her, something she began cherishing.”
flatly refused to get rid of the painting. I think it’s a bit like the
magic power of the Lord of the Rings ring. It definitely works in an
attractive and charming way, it seems to pull you towards it.
“My mother became a bit like Gollum from The Lord of the Rings,” says Zoe.
herself says that it seems to her that the painted girl is very unhappy
and she stroked her to comfort her. She also does not attribute the
deterioration of her health to the purchase of the painting.
the same time, she admits that there were several cases when someone
seemed to knock on the door, and when she opened it, there was no one on
One day, Jane became so ill that she fainted right
in the bathroom. Zoe called 911, but her mother refused to go to the
hospital and was eventually left at home.
One morning, Zoe entered
the living room and saw her mother standing and stroking the painted
girl on her cheeks. And the mother could not remember how she ended up
in the living room and what she did at night.
was strange behavior, especially for my mom. She couldn’t remember
anything from what happened last night. My mom is still very weird and
distracted and doesn’t want to discuss it.”
And then something
even more frightening happened. Zoe and her friend Ben went for a walk
on a hill during a thunderstorm and suddenly saw a “creepy black figure”
that suddenly appeared in front of them.
They do not know if this
is related to the painting, but they immediately ran back in fear.
Deciding to get rid of the cursed painting, Zoey eventually took it and
took it to the same shop where she bought it.
And when she drove
up to the store, she saw that in one of the tires of the car, brand new,
someone stuck a screw. She gave the painting to the seller, but then
changed her mind and took it back.
didn’t want someone else to buy the painting and get hurt because of
it. Now Zoe wants to give the picture only to someone who understands
Now the painting is kept in Zoya’s house in a box filled with sage (it is believed that sage helps against evil spirits).
She also hung sage in every corner of the house, although Zoya’s mother was very unhappy with this.
thought knowing my luck some idiot will go and get it and try and burn
it and I don’t really want to be left with the remainder of whatever the
hell has been going on. Technically I was the last owner. [I want it]
dealt with properly. […]”
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