Scientists -- and parents -- have long wondered why we don’t remember anything that happened before age 3. As all parents know, no matter how momentous an event is in a toddler’s life, the memory soon drifts away and within months there isn’t even a wisp of it left.
Now a new study shows that “infantile amnesia” may be due to the rapid growth of nerve cells in the hippocampus, the brain region responsible for filing new experiences into long-term memory. The study was presented Friday at the annual meeting of the Canadian Association for Neuroscience.
While youngsters do seem to remember important events for a short time after they occur, they lose these memories as time goes by, says study co-author Paul Frankland, a senior scientist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.
“They can’t form stable memories of what happens in the first few years,” Frankland says. “I have a daughter who is 4 years old and because we were working on this study, I would always ask her questions about her memories of places we visited 2, 3 months ago. It’s clear that she can form memories with quite some detail. But four years from now she won’t remember anything.”
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