Childhood memory distribution delineates three stages of episodic memory development: The passage of time explains an adult-like amount of recalled experiences... by age 4 or 5, most children show signs of having experienced everything that they recall. This pattern of results indicates that childhood amnesia ends by age 5 for most people.
In general, adults remember the first few years of their lives quite poorly, while children can often recall events from as early as 1 year old. However, studies have shown that childhood amnesia is temporary, with more recent memories being better remembered than older ones. For example, in one study, participants were asked to describe a list of words that included both common and not so common items. They were then asked to repeat the words back to the researchers. Results showed that people could correctly identify words that had been presented within the last month but not those that dated back several years.
This suggests that childhood amnesia is a temporary condition that ends around age 10 for most people. After this point, individuals begin to remember earlier events as well as later ones.
The exact cause of childhood amnesia is unknown, but it may be due to a number of factors including the size of the hippocampus, temporal lobe structure responsible for storing memories.
What Exactly Is Childhood Amnesia? Children begin to create explicit memories around the age of two, although the bulk remain implicit until they reach roughly seven. It's referred to as "childhood amnesia" by experts such as Carole Peterson of Canada's Memorial University of Newfoundland. She says that during this period, children can repeat past events but have no memory of their early experiences.
Why does memory loss occur in young children? Memory loss is not completely absent from young children's lives. They may recall specific events such as family vacations or special occasions like birthdays and Christmas. However, without help from adults these memories will be limited and vague at best. Young children cannot provide detailed accounts of their past experiences because they lack the cognitive ability to do so. Memory loss is also common among very young infants who experience severe trauma in their development often resulting in autism spectrum disorders and other intellectual disabilities.
How does one control for memory bias when conducting research with children? Scientists use a variety of tools to ensure that children are telling the truth when they claim to remember past events. One method is to ask them about their current state of mind - if they appear sad or happy, for example, we can assume that they are recalling an event that made them feel that way at the time it happened.
Another tool used by researchers is questioning technique known as "the timeline method".
Evidence is provided to show that autobiographical memory emerges around the age of four in Western countries, bringing to an end what has long been referred to as the period of infantile amnesia. Empirical evidence suggests that episodic memory exists before the age of four. Research has shown that children as young as three years old can recall specific events from their past and understand that they have memories too. By four years old, children accurately describe their memory experiences, such as "I did not remember seeing the elephant", and differentiate between remembered and forgotten information.
In addition to describing their memory experiences, by about eight years old, children are able to explain how knowledge is stored in their mind/brain-for example, "I know I saw the elephant because it is in my memory vault". They also understand that certain events are likely to be remembered while others are not, for example, if it was a very important event then it is more likely to be remembered.
Around age ten, children start to distinguish between their own thoughts and feelings and those of other people, suggesting that self-awareness begins to emerge.
By late adolescence, most individuals are able to recall autobiographical memories from their early life stages. However, research has shown that the quality of these memories decreases with age, possibly due to the fact that older adults tend to focus on the negative aspects of their lives instead of their successes.