Our brains are constantly at work processing and retrieving information. However, we become frustrated when we cannot readily retrieve information that we have stored in our brains. The inability to remember can occur for a number of reasons that range from simple forgetting to phenomena like Infantile Amnesia. Infantile Amnesia is described as an adult's inability to remember events before the age of two or three. This phenomena has proven difficult to test because your memory is in a constant state of reconstruction, (Rupp, 1998, p. 171). That is your memories are influenced by past events, and current perceptions about yourself.
Therefore, you may remember events only in a way that it is congruent with your current perceptions of yourself, and current relationships. Rupp illustrated this: Grown children who clash with their parents may find memories of childhood plastered over with new impressions the past becomes gloomier and more dismal; recollections of past injustices loom large. (Rupp, 1998, p. 172) Hindsight bias is also a factor in both adult and childhood memories. Hindsight bias occurs when our memory of how certain we were about the accuracy of an event is altered. If an event is recounted that is similar to the memory that we have we tend to become more confident remembering events in a much more positive light. If our memory is found to be false, we quickly remember ourselves as being cautiously doubtful about the event in the first place.
Therefore, it is clear that our memories are quite susceptible to error. Sigmund Freud, father of the psychoanalytic school of thought had a different interpretation. Freud contended that it was necessary to repress early childhood memories. This necessity stemmed out of the need to repress anxiety-producing sexual and aggressive memories related to a child's parent or parents. Freud thought that repression of these memories was essential to developing a healthy sex life as an adult. Though Freud's theories are widely accepted increasingly, contemporary psychologists are veering away from this theory.
Memory is defined as the process by which information is encoded, stored and retrieved. This process is central to learning and thinking. There are three types of memory storage systems: sensory memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory. Sensory memory is the initial storage of information that may last for only an instant.
Short-term memory holds information for 15 to 25 seconds. Long-term memory occurs when we store information permanently. Therefore, many of our memories about our childhood are stored there. It is not that newborns are incapable of remembering things but the way that they remember. The brains of newborns are, predisposed to retain certain kinds of information often information related to survival and mastering the environment. (Sroufe, Cooper and Dehart, 1996).
In addition, babies are only able to store fewer pieces of information about events and experiences. At this early stage in life, they are unable to organize and store information in a manner that would allow them to retrieve it readily later in life. Piaget believed that, babies memories are sensory motor in nature not true representations. Psychologists have continually tried to find methods to understand the phenomena of infantile amnesia. Studies have been conducted using the birth of a sibling as a reference point for discerning exactly what people can remember from that period. College students and children aged four, six, eight and twelve were asked to recall the birth of a sibling when they were between the ages three and eleven.
Researchers asked question like Who took care of you while your mother was in the hospital? Did the baby receive presents? Did you receive presents? Then their mothers were asked the same questions. The study found that children who were under the age of three at the time of the birth remember virtually nothing. The inability to remember events in early childhood is not necessarily a bad thing.
Actually, it may be useful particularly for people who have suffered severe trauma during their childhood. It prevents them from reliving these traumatic events, and causing undue anxiety that may impair their adult lives. While I am not in complete agreement with Freud theory on infantile amnesia, I believe that it may serve its own purpose. Badd eley, A. (1993). Your Memory, A User's Guide. United Kingdom: Prion Myers, R. (1994).
Exploring Social Psychology. United States of America: McGraw-Hill Rupp, R. (1998). How We Remember and Why We Forget. New York: Three Rivers Press Sroufe, Cooper & Dehart (1996). Child Development: Its Nature and Course.
New York: McGraw-Hill.