When do childhood memories fade?

When Do Childhood Memories Fade?
When Do Childhood Memories Fade?

What's your earliest memory, and how clear is it?

You may have noticed that your memories of childhood are a little spotty. It's called 'Childhood Amnesia,' and it's not as frightening as it sounds.

Obviously babies store tons of information to learn about the world, otherwise they would never get smarter. But when do those baby memories -- basically everything before the age of three -- disappear?

A study from Emory University says it's age seven. A few years ago, they recorded as parents interviewed their 3-year-olds about multiple events in their lives. They'd have them ask a specific question: the example given was 'Remember when we went to Chuck E. Cheese's? Did you have pizza?' Sometimes the kids would answer, but sometimes they'd do that little kid thing of changing the subject. 'Zoo!' Some parents were told to keep asking about pizza, others were told 'roll with it and ask about the zoo.'

The researchers divided the kids up into groups for follow-up interviews about those same events. Some were done when the children were between 5 and 7. Some were between 7 and 9. The younger group remembered about 70 percent of the events. The older group only remembered about 35 percent of them, so there's a huge drop-off in early memory right around the age of seven.

Here's something interesting, though. While the older children remembered fewer things about being a baby, they remembered those few things in a lot of detail. With the younger kids, there were more remembered events, but the recall was very general. Apparently, memories that stick around seem to be the ones that have more detail to them -- and that makes sense.

Autobiographical memory requires a lot of detail and understanding. You've got to have a sense of self, you need to understand enough about time and location to fix the memory somewhere, and you need to have enough understanding about what's around you. If you don't understand anything you're experiencing, how can you clearly recall it later?

Plus, the structures of the brain that allow for that sort of knowledge and understanding are undergoing a lot of change. A study of children and young adults by Wayne State University and MIT showed that there are regions of the brain that control attention and strategy that go through intense physical changes during those years. Older children and adults have easier access to those parts.

Between those physical changes and our increased understanding of the world around us, the way we remember things changes, so we become unable to grab onto those weird baby memories.

How much can you remember from being a toddler? Let us know in the comments below.