Infantile amnesia, also called childhood amnesia, refers to the fact that people can remember very little about the first few years of their life. Surveys have shown that most people report their earliest memory to be between their third and fourth birthdays. Furthermore, people’s memories of childhood generally do not become a continuous narrative until after about seven years of age.
Psychologists do not know what causes infantile amnesia, but they have several theories. One view is that brain structures critical to memory are too immature during the first few years of life to record long-term memories. Another theory is that children cannot remember events that occurred before they mastered language. In this view, language provides a system of symbolic representation by which people develop narrative stories of their lives. Such a narrative framework may be necessary for people to remember autobiographical events in a coherent context.
The phenomenon of infantile amnesia does not mean that infants and young children cannot learn. After all, babies learn to stand, walk, and talk. Scientific evidence indicates that even young infants can learn and retain information well. For example, one experiment found that three-month-old babies could learn that kicking their legs moves a mobile over their crib. Up to a month later, the babies could still demonstrate their knowledge that kicking moved the mobile. Infants and toddlers seem to retain implicit memories of their experiences.