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Childhood Amnesia Essay

3061 words - 12 pages

Childhood Amnesia

A fundamental aspect of human memory is that the more time elapsed since an event, the fainter the memory becomes. This has been shown to be true on a relatively linear scale with the exception of our first three to four years of life (Fitzgerald, 1991). It is even common for adults not to have any memory before the age of six or seven. The absence of memory in these first years has sparked much interest as to how and why it happens. Ever since Freud (1916/1963) first popularized the phenomenon there have been many questions and few robust empirical studies. Childhood amnesia is defined as the period of life from which no events are remembered (Usher & Neisser, 1993) beginning at birth and ending at the onset of your first memories. The implications of why this occurs are important for the understanding of how our memory system develops and the memory formation process. Research Limitations: There have been many hypothesized causes for childhood amnesia but very little strong evidence to support them. This problem arises out of the difficulty of obtaining reliable information pertaining to this area of study. Research is only as good as the information used. Most studies have used adult participants who are asked to report their earliest memories and the date. There are several factors contributing to the unreliability of this data. In a self-report method, people often have difficulty pinpointing what their earliest memory is and even more difficulty getting an accurate date. Verification of the memories is also a problem since it is nearly impossible to design and conduct a study that observes the initial experience to compare with the subsequent recall. The experience reported by a participant can often be checked with another family member but their memories are also prone to errors. In this field there are also many other confounding variables that experimenters must try minimize. One such variable is the family specific knowledge that a volunteer has accumulated over the course of their life. Loftus, (1993) suggested that early childhood memories are greatly influenced by one's amassed, family knowledge. For example, a participant who knows that his or her cousin was closely involved in their upbringing is likely to guess that he or she was present at an important event without any actual memory of the fact. Contributing factors to this are family stories, photographs, home movies, etc. The variance of memories between participants also makes it hard to convert what is reported into significant terms. For example, my earliest memory is from when I was about four years old and my grandmother gave me a piece of amethyst in a wooden quart basket similar to one you buy berries in. This information given its degree of accuracy is quite difficult to generalize since every other person will recount a unique story. A method used by experimenters to compensate for this is the targeting of a specific, datable event common to...

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