From the time we are born, our subconscious minds are being programmed. In fact, it’s believed that everything we perceive from birth to five or six years old is programmed directly to the subconscious mind (Montessori, 2014). Why is that? Because as newborns, we cannot pick up a textbook or sign up for online courses. For our survival, this design allows us to effortlessly absorb much about the complex systems and rules of our families, communities, and the world at large. As adults, we do not recall memories of events from our infanthood. However, as previously mentioned we do learn much during this stage of life (Montessori, 2014).
This makes sense when you consider that memory is not just one process. As indicated by Pinel & Barnes (2017), there is procedural memory, which is when you learn a new skill (like learning to ride a bicycle). Declarative memory contains facts and events and requires conscious recollection (Pinel & Barnes, 2017). So, although memory is not just one process, it does have a specific location in the brain, the hippocampus.
Alberini & Travaglia (2017), mentions that it is believed that infantile amnesia is due to the fact that infants’ brains are not fully developed, and that this is just a natural part of brain development. This article also indicates that during this developmental period, an infant’s brain is learning how to learn and how to remember things.
There is potentially an adaptiveness to the concept of the failure to retrieve memories from infanthood. According to Martinez, Oropeza & Duran (2019), postnatal hippocampal neurogenesis are the cause of infant amnesia. Neurogenesis is the development of nervous tissue. So if the development of nervous tissue has to do with epigenetics (can be passed down, or inherited), it absolutely makes sense that infantile amnesia could be adaptive. I find it so intriguing that the development of our nervous tissue can be passed down to us from our parents and beyond! I am passionate about studying trauma and the way it is passed down from one generation to the next. Learning the science behind it is energizing and affirming, for sure!
I love that this article mentions how language and self-narrative are developed during the infant stage while the brain is working in an unconscious way versus a conscious way (Alberini & Travaglia 2017). Since we are raised by imperfect humans, we pick up more than just the necessary survival skills. Our subconscious doesn’t distinguish between what is meant to be remembered, or learned, and what should be ignored. We literally just absorb it all. One of the biggest ways parents pass down trauma is through parenting styles. Now, I want to be that this isn’t anyone’s fault. Our parents were programmed from their birth on, and so were their parents, and so on. No matter how good of a job we do as parents, we are going to pass down some trauma to our children.
As children who aren’t mentally capable of processing complex things in life, we believe that we are the reason for the things that happen around us. When our caregiver is grumpy, irritable, or angry, our minds are made up that this is because of us. Our brains are meaning-making machines.
It’s very interesting to realize that this starts out even as young as infanthood.
Alberini, C. M., & Travaglia, A. (2017). Infantile Amnesia: A Critical Period of Learning to Learn and Remember. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 37(24), 5783–5795. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0324-17.2017 (Links to an external site.)
Martínez-Canabal, A., López-Oropeza, G., & Duran, P. (2019). Is There a Role of Epigenetically Inherited Neurogenesis on Infantile Amnesia? Commentary: Intergenerational Transmission of the Positive Effects of Physical Exercise on Brain and Cognition. Frontiers in neuroscience, 13, 1079. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2019.01079 (Links to an external site.)
Montessori, M. (2014). The Absorbent Mind. Floyd, VA: Sublime Books.
Pinel, J. P. J., & Barnes, S. J. (2017). Biopsychology (10th ed.) [Revel version]. Retrieved from https://www.pearsonhighered.com/revel