Infantile memory can influence the development of the brain, making the first two to four years of a child’s growth a critical period for learning. According to a recent research, it can also address and shed light on learning disabilities.
In a recent study conducted by scientists at New York University’s Center for Neural Science, they were able to find out that a child’s early life learning experiences are essential to the development of the brain storing long-term memories. If it is inactive, there can be possible risks of “not properly developing learning and memory functions,” according to an NYU’s Center for Neural Science professor Cristina Alberini.
What Are Episodic Memories?
Each person has episodic memories or memories of autobiographical events. It makes up one-half of a person’s declarative memory which refers to the facts and events that are recalled, or “declared,” in the brain. The other half is the semantic memory.
The recall of general facts is semantic while the recall of personal facts is episodic.
Episodic memories include the times, places, emotions associated and the who, what, when and where of a certain personal experience. Some examples of episodic memories include what you had for lunch, what happened on your first day of high school or what you felt during your class presentation.
Our Childhood Memories Are Usually Forgotten
However, during the first two to four years of our life, we lose our episodic memories. This phenomenon is called childhood amnesia or infantile amnesia.
There is an inability for us to retrieve these episodic memories of specific personal events that happened in the past, especially before the age of three. And while some can remember events that happened as early as they were one year old, it can diminish once the child gets older.
Some scientists say we begin to forget early childhood events at the age of seven. Scientists also figured out that the cause of this phenomenon is the formation of new brain cells in the hippocampus, a region in the brain where short-term memories are filed into long-term memories, thus making us not able to recall events that occurred at an early age.
However, even if these episodic memories cannot be retrieved, it is found out that these early-life recollections are a critical period of the development of the brain in remembering long-term memories.
Study of Infantile Memory Formation
A study that appears in the Nature Neuroscience journal shows the research of NYU’s Central of Neural Science, in collaboration with Icahn School of Medicine, at Mt. Sinai. The researchers observed the infantile recollection of rats at the age of 17 days, an equivalent to humans under the age of three when we forget episodic memories.
Rats, and also humans, can easily retain painful or unpleasant memories. That is why in the experiment, rats are tested in a box with two compartments – one is “safe” while the other is a “shock” compartment where the rodents will get a mild foot shock.
As expected, younger rats aged 17 days easily forgot their infantile memory of which of the two compartments is safe or not. They were able to avoid the “shock” compartment right after the experiment. But later on, they lost the remembrance quickly.
Meanwhile, older rats aged 24 days, similar to humans in the age of six to nine years old and who can now form long-term memories, were able to retain the memory for a long time and avoid the shock compartments.
However, the researchers found a remarkable finding. Even though the younger rats had an infantile amnesia about the “shock” compartment, they showed signs of having a recollection later in life about a certain memory by avoiding a similar context of receiving a shock when they were 17 days old.Despite forgetting about the incident, studies show the younger rats kept some traces of the memory.
Despite forgetting about the incident, studies show the younger rats kept some traces of the memory.
This shows that even though humans cannot recall specific events or experiences during their early life, our behavior during our adult life may be influenced by early-life learnings.
Critical Period in Brain Development
By focusing on the brain’s hippocampus, scientists were able to found out that if the hippocampus is inactive during the early stages of learning, the person’s ability to form latent memories and then recalling them later will diminish. Thus, a child’s early learning formation is a “critical period” – a developmental stage in one’s nervous system that responds to environmental stimuli.
If a child’s early learning formation is not developed early in life, it may be impossible to do so later on. That is why the study shows that episodic learning is a critical period where the hippocampus can efficiently process and save long-term recollections.Additionally, children need “enough and healthy activation” before entering pre-school, according to Alberini, for the kids to properly develop their brain’s learning and memory functions.
Additionally, children need “enough and healthy activation” before entering pre-school, according to Alberini, for the kids to properly develop their brain’s learning and memory functions.
Alberini, a professor in NYU, also says even though “the brain cannot form long-term memories” in the early stages of childhood, the brain is already “learning” how to do so which helps in developing the “abilities to memorize long-term.”
But in order to make it possible, the brain needs “stimulation through learning” in order for it to get “in the process of memory formation.” If the brain is inactive, Alberini says “the ability of the neurological system to learn will be impaired.
The research on the brain’s functional development also gives a promising finding that by studying more on a child’s infantile memory formation, learning disabilities can be addressed with learning and environmental interventions.
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