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shrubbery's avatar

If early memories depend on brain development, how can some people remember scenes clearly from a young age but others can't?

Asked by shrubbery (9833 points ) August 13th, 2011

How is that some people can and do remember scenes from before they are ~3? If children can’t form explicit memories before they are ~3 then how come some people claim to remember things? Has that part of their brain just developed earlier for that particular person? If so, why? Why would some people’s brains develop that way earlier and other’s don’t? I know that we all learn to read and write at different times, is it just the same kind of thing? And why is that, anyway?

I know that I have a couple of memories that aren’t really memories- I’ve just been told the story so many times by other people I can picture it as if it’s a memory.

However, there are a couple of short scenes and flashes that no one in my family had ever talked about before but I remember them. I asked my mum why I was in the hospital when I was a baby because I remember the doctor picking me up, sitting me on a bed and using his stethoscope on me. She had never thought to tell me before but I had really bad gastro when I was 18 months old. That’s what it was from. So how come I could remember that? It wasn’t traumatic or scarring or shocking at all. I don’t remember the actual being sick or what they did to me or anything. Just that little bit with the doctor.

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9 Answers

Aethelflaed's avatar

You can form memories based on what others tell you. A lot of early memories aren’t “actual” memories (horrible term, there’s no such thing, just memories), but like people tell you enough about it that you form a memory around it. Or it didn’t actually happen to you, but rather it was something you saw on tv or heard about, but then you remember it happening to you. Memory makes no distinction between reality and fiction.

shrubbery's avatar

@Aethelflaed You should probably read the details of questions as well as the title. And anyway, even if it didn’t happen to you but you saw it on TV, why would you remember what you saw if your brain isn’t supposed to be developed enough to be able to?

Aethelflaed's avatar

@shrubbery Well, like, say you watch a show when you’re five. And you don’t really remember much, except this one scene where the toddler goes to the grocery store to buy milk with their mom. Then over time, you become the toddler, and it’s you buying milk with your mom, even though this never actually happened to you.

shrubbery's avatar

@Aethelflaed yes… but… you still remember it… albeit it slightly warped. What makes you remember it when apparently your brain shouldn’t be developed enough to yet? Well, if in your example you change it to 3 years old.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@shrubbery No, I mean, you can create backwards memories. Like there was this one study where they told various adults about this one time they were kidnapped in a mall (or some other public arena) when they were a small child. They didn’t provide many details, but then all the adults were like “omg, I totally remember this, and I was wearing this purple dress, and…” and they not only remembered an event that never happened, but supplied details they hadn’t been given.

shrubbery's avatar

@Aethelflaed okay, I acknowledge that that happens. But what about when, as in my case with the doctor, it really did happen to me, but no one had previously told me about it until I asked. What about cases like that?

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
Porifera's avatar

We humans want to put everything into numbers and categories so that we can understand things better. So when scientists give parameters for something it is always in terms of the majority of something and rarely the totality of the category in question. In consequence, there are exceptions to everything and that probably accounts for those people that remember stuff before the age of three. Children are expected to walk, talk, eat solids, etc., etc., at such and such age., yet any mother can tell you that her kids didn’t do those things at the very exact same age.

I always thought the earliest memories are attached to some strong emotion —good or bad—. All the stuff I remember as early as when I was four is related to love, shock or jealousy. I had a fit on my little sister’s birthday and clearly recall my dad giving her this super cute teddy bear. I remember wanting to snatch the thing from her…ggrrr.

When you say …how come I could remember that? It wasn’t traumatic or scarring or shocking at all. sometimes these emotions are not clear to us, but they are hidden in the back of our minds. It probably caused an emotion that you can’t pinpoint but that it is there, and that’s why you remember that hospital visit so vividly.

MilkyWay's avatar

I for one can say that I remember being under 3, and see those memories clearly in my head as if it were yesterday.

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