Infantile Amnesia Term Paper

Length: 6 pages Sources: 6 Subject: Children Type: Term Paper Paper: #17390203 Related Topics: Lifespan Development, Psychoanalytic Theory, Childhood, Neuron

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Childhood amnesia, which is commonly known as infantile amnesia, is the scarcity or lack of autobiographical recollections among adults regarding incidents that took place in their early life, especially events that occurred before they turned 4 years old. Generally, most adults have no recollections of events that took place in their early life before they turned 3 years. Childhood amnesia is usually assessed through asking adults to remember their earliest memory, especially specific target incidents that happened during early life. As a result, the emergence of autobiographical memory is always regarded as the end of childhood amnesia. Childhood amnesia is an important topic in the field of psychology with regards to understanding an individual's life development. The topic is also vital in the field of psychology because it provides significant insights that help in understanding memory.

Background Information

Childhood amnesia or infantile amnesia is basically described as the scarcity or lack of autobiographical recollections among adults for incidents that took place during early life, especially before age 4 (Peterson, Grant & Boland, 2005, p.622). An individual or adult can also be considered to have childhood amnesia if he/she is seemingly unable to remember significant events in his/her life that happened before age 10 as might be expected during this period. While the brain structures like the limbic system are involved in retaining memory during the first 2 years, they are yet to be completely developed. Based on research findings, children have the ability to recollect events from before age 4 though the memories decline as they become older.

Childhood amnesia is a concept that was first introduced in 1893 by psychologist Caroline Miles in her study or evaluation individual psychology. The concept was later developed by Henri and Henri who examined individual psychology and suggested that earliest recollection of memory between 2 and 4 years. One of the major psychologists who played a crucial role in the development of the concept of childhood amnesia is Sigmund Freud. Freud provided what is arguably the most renowned and controversial definition and explanation of this concept in 1910. Through the use of the psychoanalytic theory, Freud argued that recollection of events in early life is seemingly difficult because these incidents are subdued given their unsuitable sexual nature. However, he discovered that most of his patients had difficulties remembering their earliest memories, especially events that took place before 6-8 years.

Even though scientists have known childhood amnesia for over a century, they started to examine when childhood memories begin to fade in the recent decades. These quests also involved examining which childhood memories are likely to fade and how adults develop a full autobiography without express memories of early life (Hamilton, 2014). Scientists have traditionally assumed that childhood amnesia took place because the brains of young children could not create lasting memories of certain incidents. However, this belief was tested in the 1980s by Bauer and other researchers, which involved examining the memories of children aged 9 months and using objects and gestures rather than words. The tests revealed that children as young as 2 years had very strong memories for certain past events. These findings resulted in concerns on why adults have difficulty recollecting this period of their lives.

The concerns resulted in additional studies, which demonstrated that people tend to lose access to their earliest memories during certain periods in their childhood. One of the studies showed that 7-year-old children could still recollect over 60% of events that took place in the early stages of their lives. However, at age 8 or 9, these children could only remember less than 40% of their earliest memories. The researchers concluded that this was the beginning of childhood amnesia or infantile amnesia.

Generally, children at the age of 2 have the ability to recall some of their earliest memories in life since they are able to answer questions recent incidents despite being in need of careful promoting to retrieve memories. When these children grow to age 6 or 8, they demonstrate tremendous ability to recall and describe significant incidents in their lives. However, in most cases many children have well-established autobiographical memories similar to the extent of normal forgetting evident in adults. Despite having these well-established autobiographical memories, children tend to be unable to remember memories of life that took place in their early life.

While the past few years have been characterized by increased research to understand childhood amnesia or infantile amnesia, the reason for the occurrence of the condition remains a


Moreover, in the past century, there have been several studies to examine the earliest age in which adults can remember a life event, which have been significantly stable.

How Childhood Amnesia is Tested

There are various ways through which childhood amnesia is tested as part of initiatives to help in understanding the condition and why it occurs. One of the most commonly used ways is through asking adults to remember their earliest memory. In this case, investigators ask adults to recall various memories from early childhood or specific target events that took place in their early life. The second most commonly used for testing infantile amnesia is cue word technique, which was developed by Sir Francis Galton. This method basically entails giving participants some words and asking them to think of particular memory linked to that word and estimate the age when they initially experienced that memory. Cue word technique is usually utilized to examine autobiographical memory throughout the whole lifespan.

Why Childhood Amnesia Occurs

As previously mentioned, there have been several studies conducted to help understand childhood amnesia but the reason it occurs has remained a mystery. Nonetheless, several explanations have been provided to explain why childhood amnesia took place. One of the most common explanations of why infantile amnesia occurs is Freud's theory that it is caused by suppression of traumatic memories in the early psychosexual development of the child. Secondly, many contemporary theorists have disagreed with this explanation by providing other explanations of why childhood amnesia occurs. These theorists have argued that childhood amnesia is attributed to the early development of brain structures and the brain itself. Even though children and infants seem to have capability to remember information for several weeks or months, connecting those memories to verbal cues is increasingly difficult to achieve or realize (Vitelli, 2014).

According to psychologists, childhood amnesia or infantile amnesia happens because the child's brain is still developing to encode long-term memories (Dean, 2014). This difficulty is attributed to the fact that the neural design that would enable ability to encode long-term memories requires time to develop. In essence, people need to encode information regarding the physical location of an incident, need development of self-awareness and understanding, and an understanding of differences in perspective. Moreover, when a child is young, his/her hippocampus, an important part of the brain for memory, is still undergoing neurogenesis through which there is constant production of new neurons. These processes contribute to the clearing out or elimination of old memories in order to create a path for new learning. Therefore, childhood amnesia occurs because of the development of the brain, which is characterized by processes that eliminate old memories.

Relevance of Childhood Amnesia

Childhood amnesia is an interesting topic because it helps in understanding why adults have unexpectedly few memories of early childhood though they seemingly have energetic learning ability as compared to young children. The topic helps in understanding the paradox associated with loss of memory, especially for events that took place in early life, among adults. Childhood amnesia or infantile amnesia provides a biological and psychological understanding of memory, especially long-term memory. From a biological perspective, the condition is attributed to development of major brain structures and the brain itself (Josselyn & Frankland, 2012, p.423). Through examining this topic, it helps in understanding how brain development plays a crucial role in the elimination of old memory, particularly long-term memory. From a psychological perspective, the topic provides insight on how and when the condition occurs and contributes to loss of memory for events in early stages of life.

Therefore, the topic is interesting because it provides a biological and psychological understanding of long-term memory. In this case, it helps in understanding the psychological and biological domains associated with long-term memory. Generally, childhood amnesia provides comprehensive insights of memories from all age groups in relation to the structure, nature, and social orientation of the recalled incident. In addition, the topic helps in understanding the deeper paradox involving early memory and verbally accessible memories. Consequently, knowing the process through which autobiographical memory develops is vital in understanding humans as psychic beings.

Importance of Childhood Amnesia to the Field of Psychology

Childhood amnesia is a topic that applies to daily life given that adults have difficulty in recalling memories of events that took place in their early life. The difficulty in recalling these memories and events is an occurrence in daily life among children and adults (Wang, 2008). Therefore, the topic helps in understanding the genesis…

Sources Used in Documents:


Dean, J. (2014, February). Childhood Amnesia: The Age at Which Our Earliest Memories Fade.

Retrieved February 19, 2015, from

Hamilton, J. (2014, April 8). The Forgotten Childhood: Why Early Memories Fade. Retrieved February 19, 2015, from

Josselyn, S.A. & Frankland, P.W. (2012). Infantile Amnesia: A Neurogenic Hypothesis.
Vitelli, R. (2014, April 14). Exploring Childhood Amnesia. Retrieved February 19, 2015, from
Wang, Q. (2008, March). Where Does Our Past Begin? A Sociocultural Perspective on the Phenomenon of Childhood Amnesia. Retrieved February 19, 2015, from

Cite this Document:

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"Infantile Amnesia", 19 February 2015, Accessed.1 April. 2023,

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