Thursday, June 26, 2014

Childhood memories: How stories make us who we are

Thinking back: As children acquire more ability with language, and a fuller sense of time and place, they can start to hold onto complex autobiographical memories.

Britt Peterson writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education about how the work of Emory psychologists Patricia Bauer and Robyn Fivush “has been crucial in understanding the highly philosophical mysteries of autobiographical memory: How our stories become our selves.”

An excerpt from the article:

“Patricia Bauer’s earliest memory comes from when she was just under 4. Her family had moved into a house with a concrete patio that was a few inches up from the lawn, and she rode her tricycle right off it. ‘Traumatic, right?’ she told me. “Everything before that is a blank—as it is for everyone. As Bauer said, ‘You can look at pictures of yourself as an infant, you can hear family stories about how you behaved as an infant, but you don’t know yourself as an infant. … And that’s kind of a little disturbing, when you think about it.’

“We’ve taken for granted since the late 19th century that people don’t have a working memory before about 3 years of age. Freud thought that some memories were formed, but that ‘the remarkable amnesia of childhood, … the forgetting which veils our earliest youth from us and makes us strangers to it,’ was caused by repression. … The general theory on what came to be known as ‘childhood amnesia’ was that very young children were, as Bauer put it to me, ‘a turnip that sat in a car seat.'

“Her early work in memory helped challenge the ‘turnip in a car seat’ paradigm. It turned out the problem was language, not memory: When Bauer developed nonverbal tests of recall—using a new toy to demonstrate a sequence of tasks, then testing over time to see how that knowledge endured—she was able to show that children as young as a year were forming memories, even if they couldn’t yet describe them.”

Read the whole article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.


Psychologists document the age our earliest memories fade
Stories your parents should have told you

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