Why can’t we remember our childhood?

Why can't we remember our childhood?

Can’t remember the first moments of your childhood? An expert explains to you why it is so difficult to remember this period and sheds light on the gradual construction of memory.

Why is it difficult to have precise memories of your childhood? What do we need to create a complete memory? What about self-awareness and projection into the future in children? Dr. Bérengère Guillery, neuropsychologist in Caen, answers by explaining the development of memory from childhood to adulthood, in collaboration with the B2V Observatory of Memories.

“Fragmented” memories in children

The neuropsychologist explains that the first memories are fragmentary. This means that a young child will remember some details of an event but not the whole thing. While perceptual memory is established very early, the child is not immediately able to associate visual and sound elements to memorize the context in its entirety. According to the expert, this phenomenon is called “childhood amnesia”. Indeed, memory is established gradually and depends on the maturation of the brain. During the first years, the difficulty in memorizing is due to the many changes taking place in the brain. According to Dr. Guillery: “the hippocampus is the site of a strong production of neurons, which generates changes so important that memories cannot be anchored there“.

On the other hand, the maturation of the frontal regions, making it possible to structure and retrieve memories, occurs until the end of adolescence.” reveals the expert. Indeed, forming a memory is a process that requires many skills. For example, language is involved in the creation and structuring of a memory. Before the age of 2, most children have little vocabulary , so they cannot create a complete memory.

Children do not retain the same information as adults because they do not have the same perception of the size of things and therefore create different memories. Furthermore, their interests are not at all the same. The child, discovering the world, dwells on details that the adult has not observed for a long time.

Creating a complete memory, a complex process

Having a comprehensive memory means that you can remember several types of information at the same time, combining them. In this way, you coordinate both the location, the time and the people present during the event. This action requires “mobilizing in a synchronized manner distant brain regions (integration) but also increasingly specialized regions (segregation)”. On the other hand, for a memory to form, you must be able to distinguish classic situations that occur in your routine from unusual situations. This implies being aware of the representation of the world with classic scenarios in order to realize when a situation is particular.

When do we become aware of ourselves?

Self-awareness is formed in several stages. First of all, you must realize that you are “distinct from the environment”, and recognize yourself as a person, with your own characteristics. This ability develops late since a baby is unable to recognize himself in the mirror until around eighteen months of age.

On the other hand, to be aware of yourself, you must also be aware of the passage of time. The child must therefore learn to conceive of himself over time, and this happens from around the age of four, specifies the neurologist. The development of this ability varies with each child.

Dr. Berengère Guillery illustrates self-awareness over time through an experiment: “the child is filmed while an adult sticks a sticker on his shoulder while passing behind him. If, when he watches the film a hour later, the child rubs his shoulder to remove it, it is because he recognized himself in this past moment.

Good in his body, good in his head!

How does a child plan for the future?

As memory is gradually established, the ability to project oneself into the future also develops slowly. Through brain imaging tests, some researchers have seen that the areas of the brain involved in perceiving the past and the future are very similar. Prospective memory, which allows us to think about an action that we must perform in the future, requires many skills. Indeed, “this should allow you to remember what you have to do later, to interrupt the current action to think about what comes next and finally to remove this thought so as not to do it again.“, develops the expert. The ability to project oneself into the future therefore mobilizes both long-term memory (the action to be carried out) and short-term memory (the action that one is currently carrying out). ).

According to the neurologist, the different forms of memory continue to develop up to the age of 25. It is therefore completely normal not to remember everything when you are young.