Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
  • Get access
    Check if you have access via personal or institutional login
  • Cited by 6
  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: November 2012

11 - The life I once remembered: the waxing and waning of early memories

Summary

One of the most intriguing phenomena in the memory literature is infantile or childhood amnesia. The amnesia has two components: a relative paucity among adults of memories of specific past events from the first 3 to 4 years of life, and from the ages of 3 or 4 to age 7 or 8, a smaller number of memories than would be expected on the basis of forgetting alone (Pillemer and White, 1989). The amnesia made its debut in the psychological literature in 1893, with a report by C. Miles on adults’ responses to a questionnaire designed to gain information about the phenomenal experience of childhood. One of the questions included in the survey was, “What is the earliest thing you are sure you can remember? How old were you?” The average earliest memory of Miles’ 89 respondents was age 3.04 years. The amnesia was named in 1905 by Sigmund Freud, who remarked on “the peculiar amnesia which veils from most people (not from all) the first years of their childhood, usually the first six or eight years” (1905/1953, p. 581). For much of the twentieth century, efforts were made to describe the amnesia by characterizing adults’ earliest memories along dimensions of detail and completeness (highly detailed or fragmentary), perspective (first or third person), emotionality (predominantly positive, negative, or devoid of emotion), and so forth (see, e.g., Bauer, 2007; White and Pillemer, 1979, for reviews). Explanatory accounts ranged from theories of repression and “screening” of psychically unacceptable recollections (Freud, 1905/1953) to cognitive theories characterizing the ability to remember specific past events as a developmentally late achievement due to changes in representational processes (Piaget, 1962), or non-mnemonic developments, such as the dawning of autonoetic awareness (e.g., Perner and Ruffman, 1995), for example. Largely missing from the literature, however, were data on the memories of children within the age period eventually veiled by the amnesia. As a result, there was little to constrain accounts of the origins or development of the amnesia.

References
Ackil, J. K.Van Abbema, D. L.Bauer, P. J. 2003 After the storm: enduring differences in mother–child recollections of traumatic and nontraumatic eventsJournal of Experimental Child Psychology 84 286
Bauer, P. J. 2006 Event memoryDamon, W.Lerner, R. M.Handbook of child psychologyKuhn, D.Siegler, R.373Hoboken, NJWiley
Bauer, P. J. 2007 Remembering the times of our lives: memory in infancy and beyondMahwah, NJLawrence Erlbaum Associates
Bauer, P. J. 2008 Infantile amnesiaHaith, M. M.Benson, J. B.Encyclopedia of infant and early childhood development51San Diego, CAAcademic Press
Bauer, P. J.Burch, M. M.Scholin, S. E.Güler, O. 2007 Using cue words to investigate the distribution of autobiographical memories in childhoodPsychological Science 18 910
Bauer, P. J.Larkina, M. 2011 Childhood amnesia in the making: different distributions of autobiographical memories in children and adultsManuscript in review
Bauer, P. J.Stark, E. N.Lukowski, A. F.Rademacher, J.Van Abbema, D. L.Ackil, J. K. 2005 Working together to make sense of the past: mothers’ and children’s use of internal states language in conversations about traumatic and non-traumatic eventsJournal of Cognition and Development 6 463
Bauer, P. J.Stennes, L.Haight, J. C. 2003 Representation of the inner self in autobiography: women’s and men’s use of internal states language in personal narrativesMemory 11 27
Bohn, A.Berntsen, D. 2008 Life story development in childhood: the development of life story abilities and the acquisition of cultural life scripts from late middle childhood and adolescenceDevelopmental Psychology 44 1135
Bruce, D.Wilcox-O’Hearn, A.Robinson, J. A.Phillips-Grant, K.Francis, L.Smith, M. C. 2005 Fragment memories mark the end of childhood amnesiaMemory & Cognition 33 567
Cleveland, E. S.Reese, E. 2008 Children remember early childhood: long-term recall across the offset of childhood amnesiaApplied Cognitive Psychology 22 127
Crovitz, H. F.Schiffman, H. 1974 Frequency of episodic memories as a function of their ageBulletin of the Psychonomic Society 4 517
Fitzgerald, J. M. 1991 A developmental account of early childhood amnesiaJournal of Genetic Psychology 152 159
Fivush, R.Haden, C. A. 1997 Narrating and representing experience: preschoolers’ developing autobiographical accountsvan den Broek, P.Bauer, P. J.Bourg, T.Developmental spans in event representation and comprehension: bridging fictional and actual events169Mahwah, NJErlbaum
Fivush, R.Schwarzmueller, A. 1998 Children remember childhood: implications for childhood amnesiaApplied Cognitive Psychology 12 455
Freud, S. 1905 Childhood and concealing memoriesThe basic writings of Sigmund FreudBrill, A. A.New YorkModern Library
Habermas, T.Bluck, S. 2000 Getting a life: the emergence of the life story in adolescencePsychological Bulletin 126 748
Habermas, T.Negele, A.Mayer, F. B. 2010 Honey, you’re jumping about”: mothers’ scaffolding of their children’s and adolescents’ life narrationCognitive Development 25 339
Hamond, N. R.Fivush, R. 1991 Memories of Mickey Mouse: young children recount their trip to Disney WorldCognitive Development 6 433
Jack, F.MacDonald, S.Reese, E.Hayne, H. 2009 Maternal reminiscing style during early childhood predicts the age of adolescents’ earliest memoriesChild Development 80 496
Larkina, M.Merrill, N.Fivush, R.Bauer, P. J. 2009
MacDonald, S.Uesiliana, K.Hayne, H. 2000 Cross-cultural and gender differences in childhood amnesiaMemory 8 365
Miles, C. 1893 A study of individual psychologyAmerican Journal of Psychology 6 534
Morris, G.Baker-Ward, L.Bauer, P. J. 2009 What remains of that day: the survival of children’s autobiographical memories across timeApplied Cognitive Psychology 24 527
Mullen, M. K. 1994 Earliest recollections of childhood: a demographic analysisCognition 52 55
Nelson, K. 1986 Event knowledge: structure and function in developmentHillsdale, NJErlbaum
Nelson, K.Fivush, R. 2004 The emergence of autobiographical memory: a social cultural developmental theoryPsychological Review 111 486
O’Kearney, R.Speyer, J.Kenardy, J. 2007 Children’s narrative memory for accidents and their post-traumatic distressApplied Cognitive Psychology 21 821
Perner, J.Ruffman, T. 1995 Episodic memory and autonoetic consciousness: developmental evidence and a theory of childhood amnesiaJournal of Experimental Child Psychology 59 516
Peterson, C.Grant, V. V.Boland, L. D. 2005 Childhood amnesia in children and adolescents: their earliest memoriesMemory 13 622
Piaget, J. 1962 Play, dreams and imitation in childhoodNew YorkW. W. Norton & Co
Pillemer, D. B.White, S. H. 1989 Childhood events recalled by children and adultsReese, H. W.Advances in child development and behavior297Orlando, FLAcademic Press
Reese, E.Haden, C.Baker-Ward, L.Bauer, P. J.Fivush, R.Ornstein, P. A. 2011 Coherence of personal narratives across the lifespan: a multidimensional model and coding methodJournal of Cognition and Development 12 424
Reese, E.Jack, F.White, N. 2010 Origins of adolescents’ autobiographical memoriesCognitive Development 25 352
Rubin, D. C. 1982 On the retention function for autobiographical memoryJournal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 21 21
Rubin, D. C. 2000 The distribution of early childhood memoriesMemory 8 265
Rubin, D. C.Schulkind, M. D. 1997 The distribution of important and word-cued autobiographical memories in 20-, 35-, and 70-year-old adultsPsychology and Aging 12 524
Rubin, D. C.Wenzel, A. E. 1996 One hundred years of forgetting: a quantitative description of retentionPsychological Review 103 734
Rubin, D. C.Wetzler, S. E.Nebes, R. D. 1986 Autobiographical memory across the adult lifespanRubin, D. C.Autobiographical memory202New YorkCambridge University Press
Van Abbema, D. L.Bauer, P. J. 2005 Autobiographical memory in middle childhood: recollections of the recent and distant pastMemory 13 829
Wang, Q. 2003 Infantile amnesia reconsidered: a cross-cultural analysisMemory 11 65
Wang, Q.Leichtman, M. D.Davies, K. I. 2000 Sharing memories and telling stories: American and Chinese mothers and their 3-year-oldsMemory 8 159
Weigle, T. W.Bauer, P. J. 2000 Deaf and hearing adults’ recollections of childhood and beyondMemory 8 293
West, T. A.Bauer, P. J. 1999 Assumptions of infantile amnesia: are there differences between early and later memoriesMemory 7 257
Wetzler, S. E.Sweeney, J. A. 1986 Childhood amnesia: an empirical demonstrationRubin, D. C.Autobiographical memory191New YorkCambridge University Press
White, S. H.Pillemer, D. B. 1979 Childhood amnesia and the development of a socially accessible memory systemKihlstrom, J. F.Evans, F. J.Functional disorders of memory29Hillsdale, NJErlbaum
Wickelgren, W. A. 1974 Single-trace fragility theory of memory dynamicsMemory & Cognition 2 775
Wickelgren, W. A. 1975 Alcoholic intoxication and memory storage dynamicsMemory & Cognition 3 385
Wixted, J. T. 2004 On common ground: Jost’s (1897) law of forgetting and Ribot’s (1881) law of retrograde amnesiaPsychological Review 111 864