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What Is Childhood Amnesia?

Sigmund Freud suggested that childhood amnesia stemmed from the repression of memories of traumatic experiences.
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  • Written By: Alicia Sparks
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 18 July 2014
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Like all types of amnesia, childhood amnesia is a condition that prevents a person from recalling or having memories beyond a certain point. In the case of childhood amnesia, which is also known as infantile amnesia, the person has no memories of the first years of his childhood. Generally, this means the first two years of childhood, but for some the memory loss can span the first four years of life. Researchers offer several possible explanations for childhood amnesia, and some even suggest certain people are more prone than others to develop it. Although the condition is common and typically is not dangerous, anyone wishing to further investigate should seek assistance from trained therapists.

There are various explanations for childhood amnesia. Sigmund Freud suggested this kind of childhood memory loss was a type of traumatic amnesia, during which the child repressed memories of traumatic events that took place during psychosexual development. Since Freud’s explanation does not place scientific research over anecdotal evidence, it is sometimes criticized. Other theories about childhood amnesia include a lack of neurological development during infancy, an incomplete language development, and a difference in the emotions and perspectives children and adults experience. Overall, children have limited abilities when it comes to encoding permanent memories, so oftentimes these memories are lost as time passes.

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Research suggests there might be certain patterns regarding childhood amnesia. For example, females tend to retain memories that took place earlier and are more vivid than the memories males retain. It is thought this might be due to the way the different genders interact and have conversations as children. Race might also play a role in childhood amnesia. Europeans and Asians, for example, tend to recall younger childhood memories than do some other ethnicities.

In general, experiencing childhood amnesia is fairly common and not dangerous. Since this kind of amnesia does not stem from an organic cause like a head injury, rarely is there physical damage to consider. Yet, there might be psychological damage to consider if the childhood memory loss is due to the child repressing memories of dangerous events, such as abuse. A situation like this might call for a therapist who specializes in memory loss and, more specifically, repressed memories. This can be complicated territory, especially when methods such as the controversial hypnosis are involved, and should be approached only by trained professionals and patients who understand the possibilities of each advantage and disadvantage.

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