General Question

Yellowdog's avatar

Why can't we remember much, if anything, from early childhood and infancy?

Asked by Yellowdog (6940points) 5 days ago

Some of us have scant few memories of a few things or places when we were less than two or three years old.

But most people can’t remember anything that happened before they started school, and some don’t even remember anything before they were ten or twelve.

Why can’t we remember a lot from when we were babies?

Some will say because it was such a long time ago. Well, that is’t true, I am 54 years old and can quite easily remember my college years. I can tell you a lot about what I learned and experienced about my college years , even though it was over thirty years ago, But someone who is 31 cannot remember their lives thirty years ago.

You’d think that in those early years, we are noticing and absorbing everything around us, and learning a lot about the world, about language, learning our earliest habits—that we would remember a LOT of these experiences. If I can remember 30 years ago, why can’t we remember our infancy when we are in our thirties? Even a five-year-old can’t remember much about their infancy.

And, while we’re at it—what are some of YOUR earliest memories? Why can’t we remember more?

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

17 Answers

Panicsprey's avatar

A child’s ability to store short term to long term memory doesn’t fully develop until roughly 3 years of age. After that, children are focused on developing and achieving milestones needed for rounded development (independence, social acceptance, developing motor skills etc).

Yellowdog's avatar

Well, that’s about as early as my memories rum.

We got a dog when I was two years and nine months old—and I remember the CAT we had before the dog. I remember really loving the cat, but the cat was really avoidant, Eventually she left us, and I remember really grieving when the cat never came back. That is when we got the dog, But I remember a little more—still very little, from when I was three and probably closer to four,

stanleybmanly's avatar

I seem to remember back in my own distant past learning that the reason we don’t have memories from infancy is because until around 3 we lack enough synapses to build, sort and store them. The architecture is there, but the wiring has not developed sufficiently to establish the necessary circuits.

flo's avatar

I guess for the same reason why infants can’t process salt, (no more than 1g /day) for example,. Is it any different from why 6 month olds can’t walk etc.?

Inspired_2write's avatar

I assume that if the memory was significant that it was impressed on the mind.

Up to grade four I always had a scary dream of green arms coming after me, soon that memory faded.
But in later life doing family history I located an old photograph of two nurses holding me and my sister just after birth.

I researched and found out that the nurses wore at that time long green gloves when dealing with premature tiny babies and possibly every birth in that hospital.
We were in incubators until our weight was over five or six pounds in order to have a better chance of survival. It was the Green elbow length gloves that I remembered .

Another incidence of my older brother relayed to me that as a baby under one years old he was with my parents in a theater that had a story of a fire scene ( like house fire etc) he told me that for years he had dreams and fear of fire, until parents told him of that show at the theater and that he screamed so much in terror that they left early.
So memories are ingrained through experiences no matter what age.

SQUEEKY2's avatar

I can remember events and mile stones from about 5 and up,not much if anything before then.
I think @stanleybmanly answered it best.

JLeslie's avatar

Part of it is the brains ability isn’t there yet, just as people said above. Around age three it starts to get good enough that memories start getting stored.

As far as children not remembering before age 10, that sometimes has to do with a very big change. If a child moves to a new city at age 9, their memories of the old town will not be as clear or as accurate as a child who moves away at age 15. The redundancy of being there engrains the memories. So, what I mean is the 15 year old will like have clearer and more memories from age 8 than the 9 year old. Go back to age 5 even more so.

Traumatic events can either get etched very deeply in memory, or more blocked than the average memory. Most people I know who say they had a crappy childhood have very little memory of childhood, except the most traumatic parts of it.

kritiper's avatar

Because our brains were still developing and developing both the conscious, thinking mind and the subconscious, reactionary mind.

mazingerz88's avatar

I’m guessing brain related issues. Memory cells don’t develop fast enough to retain very early memories.

gondwanalon's avatar

I have a lot of memmories starting at age 3 on. I’m 68 now.
As an infant they took me to the hospital for an operation to make my testicals descend (TMI).
I remember being held down while they drew blood (I wondered why are they so mean to me) and they had to put a net over my crib to keep me from climbing out.

My father died when I was 4 and I remember a lot about him too. Especially his strong hands a strong voice.

Riding my tricycle on a frozen lake and the ice was too thin. A big boy pulled me to safety.

Then I fell through a window and had to be stitched up.

My two older sisters use to tickle me until I vomited and they would dress me up like I was one of thier dolls.

Finger painting on the sidewalk with dog poop was fun.

Talking out loud pretend stories and feeling embarrassed when someone over heard me.

Being told that I talk too much.

Taking my Mom’s lipstick and coloring my face and head with and the running outside naked was something to do.

Being terrified when my Sister told me about the buggieman.

I was acting up one time and my babysitter held my head under kitchen sink water faucet full open. I thought that she was going to kill me.

Stealing toys from another little kid. Knowing it was wrong and covering up my crime.

That’s just a tiny bit that I remember at age 4 and earlier. I could write a big chapter on my life before kindergarten. Then my kindergarten teacher physically and mentally abused me. That was very traumatic to me. Got me off to a very bad start in school.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

I actually have a singular memory from being breast fed. Then a cluster of memories from about age 3 or 4. Then after age 5 or so I seem to have pretty much normal adult memory.

Bill1939's avatar

My earliest memories begin at age two. My bedroom dimly lit by light from the hall entering through the door partly closed illuminated filigree carved on the drawers of the large dresser frightening me just before I fell to sleep. It looked like an angry face. I vividly remember a night when my mother was going to a meeting wearing a wooden broach in the shape of a Ubangi warrior’s head with large lips pinned on her collar. That night I dreamt the floating bodiless head chasing me down a dark street flanked by tall windowless buildings.

At age three, mother pregnant with what would be my sister had been ill. I remember bringing a small plate with peanut butter on crackers I had prepared to her as she rested in bed. She took a small bite and thanked me; I later learned that the smell had sickened her, but she did let me know at the time. That same summer she was well enough to be out of bed and for the first time in weeks, I was allowed to go outside and ride my tricycle in front of the house where she could watch me from the living room windows.

Next door, several children my age were gathered in front of a basement window laughing at a lady washing clothes and making funny faces to entertain them. I got of my trike and ran to the window so fast that I plunged headlong into the glass pane. Mother, in her second trimester came to my side and barefoot carried me several blocks to the nearby hospital. I remember the sun shining so brightly on my face I could not keep my eyes open. Turning my head, I saw the cinders covering an empty lot near our destination.

That fall, mother’s pregnancy having taken a turn for the worse, I had to be placed in temporary foster care while she was hospitalized. I remember sitting in the front seat next to father as he drove down a narrow lane following tire tracks in the snow to a farmhouse where I stayed for several weeks. I remember that one of the older boys running into the house and with his father grabbing their rifles to drive off crows that filled their fields—I want to go with them, but was not allowed.

I remember leaving there and staying with an older couple who had me call them gramma and grampa. Father and I celebrated my forth birthday and Christmas in their apartment. In early spring, I was placed with a large family living not far from my house. This was my last foster home. Father came by and found us were playing in the dining room behind the table turned on its side serving as a pretend stockade defending us from imaginary Indians. He took me home.

JLeslie's avatar

My earliest memory I think is my mom explaining to me why she put a pillow under the crib mattress for the baby. My sister was born when I was 2 year and 9 months old. I’m guessing the memory is from when I was just short of 3 years old, or shortly after my 3 year birthday. I also remember some things from nursery school and I was in nursery school from 2½ to 4½ years old.

The reason I say I think my first memory is the crib and my sister, because I also was in nursery school at that time, and so I’m not 100% sure which specific memory is actually first.

All my memories from very very young are an adult explaining something to me. In nursery school it was a teacher explaining how to make the craft thing we were working on. The crib was my mom explaining. In kindergarten (4 and 5) it’s also mostly memories of my teacher explaining something, very spotty memories. I remember taking the bus to school and walking to school also at that age. We lived close enough to walk on a nice day. I remember playing in the playground.

In first grade (I was 5 and 6) is when my memories become full range of everything I was experiencing.

KNOWITALL's avatar

I remember the hospital when I had brain surgery from a wreck. Also my mom running over my dog about 4 yrs old, and our massive garden. Getting in trouble for pouring DE all over the floor. Playing Donnie and Marie on my record player. I feel lucky to have memories at all, but even right after head trauma is kinda neat.

JLeslie's avatar

^^You just now reminded me of being at the doctor’s office and he weighed my baby sister and they gave her a shot and she cried, and I got a shot too, but I was fine. I always took shots well. I must have been 3.

Inspired_2write's avatar

I also heard another theory about why people cannot remember before certain ages..apparently they are blocking out a memory that is bothersome or too painful to recall?
I don’t remember where I read or heard this , it just stayed in my mind since I try to understand human behavior and read, watch, listen to a lot about that topic.
Its an interesting subject as we as humans are fascinating people.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@what @ManlyStanly said. The synapses just aren’t there yet. Infants do learn, of course. They learn, and remember, what it takes to get their basic needs met.

My earliest memory is right at 3. They presented my new born baby sister. I was l like, ‘What’s the big deal. It’s just a baby.”
I am 3 years older than her.

Answer this question




to answer.

This question is in the General Section. Responses must be helpful and on-topic.

Your answer will be saved while you login or join.

Have a question? Ask Fluther!

What do you know more about?
Knowledge Networking @ Fluther