Why Don’t We Keep Memories Of Our First Years Of Life?

If you are asked to remember your first day of high school, many images and emotions will probably come to your mind immediately. You will be able to describe the physical context, the people involved and the events without much effort. Instead, what if they ask you to remember the day you started walking? For most of us it is practically impossible to evoke memories of our early years. 

But what actually happens? Are we unable, during this stage, to encode memories? If we encode them, what prevents us from recovering those memories at will? This phenomenon, which arouses great interest, has not yet been fully clarified. However, there are various explanations that account for this kind of amnesia that occurs on our first memories.  In this article we will tell you the causes that underlie this forgetting process.

Why don’t we have memories of our early years?


One of the clearest answers that science provides about this lack of early memories is related to neurogenesis. This could be defined as the process of creating new neuronal cells in our brain. And it takes place, above all, in the hippocampus, a region associated with memory and learning.

During our first years there is an exponential multiplication of neurons, in such a way that in the first year of life the brain has twice the number of neuronal connections than in the adult stage. This remarkable growth of brain cells is ultimately intended to optimize our learning process. However, at the same time, it has a negative effect on memory.

From the moment we are born until we are five years old, our hippocampus is in constant dynamism, as we carry out a large number of novel learning. This has a negative impact on the roots of long-term memories, since memory has a limited capacity and needs to get rid of a certain amount of information in order to acquire a new one.

Cognitive development

Another fact related to the fragility of children’s memory involves insufficient cognitive development. Let us think that in our first years of life we ​​are still not aware of ourselves. It is still difficult for us to perceive the distinction between what we are and what is external.

On the other hand, we still do not have a developed language, which negatively influences our ability to assimilate concepts and elaborate thoughts. Without language, our memories are more like fleeting, fleeting images than sharp, meaningful memories. In our early years we do not have sufficient cognitive development to encode clear and solid memories.

Quick forgetting

What happens, therefore, is not that children are incapable of elaborating content in their memory. rather, its encodings are vague and imprecise and its forgetting much faster. Children of, for example, three years old can remember and relate past experiences. However, at four years of age they may be unable to relate the same experience. In a short time, the memories have simply faded from his memory.

Implicit memory

We must bear in mind, however, that the amnesia of these early years does not occur in an absolute way. We remember how to talk, how to walk, or how to brush our teeth, even though we don’t remember the context or circumstances surrounding the learning. The implicit memory (that does not require an intentional recovery) is maintained.

The explicit memory (which involves conscious and intentional collection of past information) develops later and is not present in children. This makes it difficult to voluntarily bring these early memories to mind.

Evoking the memories of our early years

In short, due to the activity of the hippocampus, the immature cognitive development and the rapidity of forgetting, it is not possible to remember the events that occurred in our first years of life. Fortunately, we preserve the procedural and implicit memory of all the learning that we acquire at this stage.

It is clear, therefore, that in order to know more in depth about our first years of life we ​​will have to use other resources. Photo albums, video recordings or anecdote narrations by our relatives.