Do you remember your first birthday? Or what about the first time you spoke a legible word? When your parents are recalling memories of you as a kid, do you just take their word for it? You’d get hit with a ‘You were the naughtiest child ever, you’d always try to push your brother off the stairs’ and you probably just go ‘Yeah, that checks out. I mean I’m a social worker now but it figures I was violent at some point in my life’.
This mystery of why we don’t remember anything from our infanthood has been making scientists and psychologists crazy since a long time. I know what you’re thinking – We were babies, we’re not meant to remember anything. But actually babies are like sponges (not literally of course), they absorb new information at an unbelievable rate. 700 neural connections are formed every second helping them develop their language skills. Their brains are trained before they even leave the womb!
Broadly classifying memory into two types – Semantic memory which is the one you remember from your child as you grow up. It’s things like how to brush your teeth or to say thank you if someone helps you.
The second type of memory is Episodic memory which relates to the details of a specific event. The first memory you have could be from when you were 2 years old or it could be much later say 7 or 8 years. These memories are usually scattered all over the brain. Visual memory in one place, auditory memory in another. A region of the brain called hippocampus is responsible for tying all of these pieces of memory together to relate to a specific event.
A theory goes to say that children remember things from 2 years or later because that might be when the hippocampus starts doing its job. There’s a reason behind it – Episodic memory is considered unnecessary and not to mention complex for a child’s brain that is learning how the world works. So this theory explains why even though babies have rapidly developing brains, none of the memories are retained as they reach adulthood.
There are numerous studies being done on this front to find out the exact reason behind why those first few years of our lives are a blank slate.
Think of the first memory you have of you as a kid – Can you visualize it? Can you remember any speech from that memory? If you do then ask yourself if it’s because that memory’s been told to you by your parents so many times that you feel like you know it. It’s like reading a book and imagining how it plays out in your brain. The only way to find out if you remember that event purely from your own memory is to dig deep and find out if you can recall how you felt in that moment. For example – There’s a difference between – ‘I had my first ice cream’ and ‘I had my first ice cream, I want to eat this every day for the rest of my life’. No matter how hard others try to influence your feelings, your actual feelings will linger so why not give this thought a penny and scan your childhood memories.
Comment what you think of as your first memory.