Every time we try to remember our childhood, we can only think of incidents from when we are older than 6 years old. If we try to go further back, then the memories get hazy, and we might not be able to remember all the details right. Ever wondered why? Even if you strain your memory hard enough, you won’t be able to remember the time you celebrated your first birthday in detail. Why do you think that is?
Most people don’t remember their childhoods, but that isn’t because children can’t retain information. It may just be because children’s brains don’t yet process information the way an adult brain does, and children’s brains won’t be able to function in a way that bundles information into the complex neural patterns that we come to call memories.
Memory created can be of two types – semantic and episodic. While they are growing up, children lack the ability to form episodic memory as strongly as they do semantic memory. Semantic memory has to do with understanding facts and information, and helping children navigate the world, for example, understanding that a kid has to say “Please” in order to get what they want.
Episodic memory is the memory referring to the details of a specific event. These memories are stored in different parts of the brain’s surface or the ‘cortex’. For example, sound and visual memories are stored in different parts of the cortex. The part of the brain called Hippocampus brings all the memories together. The end memory is a function of all these parts of the brain where a memory is stored, connected by the neural linkages.
From 2 to 4 years old, children usually fail to record the memories which are episodic. This is believed to be because that is when the hippocampus is still developing and trying to connect the memories together. This may also be because, at 4 years of age, a kid is still learning how to navigate the world, and information about specific events may be irrelevant to the kid. The episodic memory may be too distracting for the kids to remember.
Psychologists have a specific term for this. They call this ‘Childhood Amnesia’. This is the time when the kids merely rely on semantic memory to function in life. Maybe it is for the best, although it certainly would be really cool to remember your earliest days!