One day, when Scrunchy Face is older, I’d like to turn to him and say, “Hey, remember that time we were all on the balcony and Dad tried to knock down a dead beehive with a vacuum cleaner wand but accidentally hit your brother in the head instead?”
If I did do that, I’m about 99.9 percent certain he’d look at me funny and then respond with “No.” Not because this didn’t happen. (Saucer Eyes, by the way, was totally OK and didn’t even flinch. I can’t say the same for my traumatized husband, who might never touch a vacuum again…as if he needed an excuse.)
Scrunchy Face would say no because right now, he’s 6 months old — an age when you wouldn’t expect him to be forming memories that he can recall later in life. Now a new study is shedding some light on why.
Drs. Paul Frankland and Sheena Josselyn, of the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, say that “infantile amnesia” — a term coined by Sigmund Freud in the late 1800s — can be explained by the high levels of nerve cell production in infants and young children, according to a release posted on ScienceDaily.com.
For a layman like me, it sounds pretty counter-intuitive. You might think that lots of new nerve cells would mean lots of new room for lasting memories. WRONG.
Frankland and Josselyn argue that the production of nerve cells — known as neurogenesis — has the effect of reorganizing young children’s brains and clearing old memories while increasing the capacity for new learning. In other words, Scrunchy Face may not remember what it looked like when his older brother took a vacuum to the noggin, but perhaps he’s gained better comprehension of the phrases “Oh noooooooo!” and “ARE YOU OKAY??” as uttered by very panicked parents.
The researchers reached this conclusion by studying mice. They suppressed high levels of neurogenesis in young mice and stimulated neurogenesis in older mice. They found that the ability to remember — as tested by running them through a maze, according to Canada’s CBC — increased in the younger group and decreased in the older group.
It’s strange, as a parent, to come to terms with the fact that days and months that are so meaningful to you — fond recollections of your baby’s first trip to the park, first hug with his sibling, first burp so loud the whole house shook, etc. — won’t really register in your child’s head. Indeed, it’s good motivation to snap photos and show them what they missed when they were busy learning instead of establishing memories.
Of course, I don’t have a photo of the vacuum cleaner incident. But rest assured that when it comes time to knock down another dead beehive, I’ll ready the camera…along with a helmet or three.
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