Why can’t we remember when we were babies?


I’ve been wondering about memory development lately. How come nobody remembers earlier than more or less 2 years of age? It’s a universal statistic; most of us can’t remember before that. Why?

Frankly, I did not bother to research much. I wanted to jot down my theories uninfluenced, plus a quick google search did not pop out any scientifically based articles so I dropped it.

I did study psychology however and understand the basics of memory formation. Our brains are made up of cells called neurons. Those neurons link to other neurons as you gather experience. At the beginning, there are no neural connections or links (other than the basics for survival, aka, instincts). It’s like an empty slate.

Memory develops as a series of associations between acquired data. When you look at something for the first time, that image is recorded in your brain. If the image is paired enough with a sound, an association between the two is created. The next time you hear the sound, it will trigger the memory of the image and vice versa (when you see the image you remember the sound). Full memories of events are composed of many things: sounds, images, feelings, smells, tastes… every bit of data gathered by the senses. Eventually our experiences create a web of links and connections in our brains that are highly complex. It’s only after an appropriate level of associations develops that full memory can take place.

Add to that language. At first memory is mostly sensual, but humans developed language and at this point every sense perception has its accompanying word. Language is a complex form of memory: think, visual – letters, phonic – sound, conceptual – feelings, ideas, etc. all put together. In fact, once language develops, memory and thought process changes.And when is it that kids have enough language skills to construct a full sentence? Around 2 years of age… Coincidence?

Do you think in words or images? You will find varied answers, though a lot, if not most, think in words. That adds a whole lot of implications about how the language you speak affects your thoughts, but that’s a whole other blog all together.

The conclusion (if you’ve bared with me so far) is that you need to have sufficient accumulated information about your environment in order to start creating memories. Once that’s done, you have enough to start making complex connections that create a memory. I wonder if neuroscientists have proven or disproven this…

Thanks for reading this far. End of nerdy post.

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