Sunday, July 08, 2012

Interna

The past month has been very busy for us, and it will unfortunately remain that way for some more weeks, after which I hope time pressure will ease off.

Our two lovely ladies are still not willing to speak to us. They have however developed other communication channels, or maybe I've just become good at guessing what they want. They now both have four molars and Gloria finally gets her missing front teeth (the outer ones on the bottom, nicely visible in the photo to the right).

The developing brain of the human infant is a mystery as well as a miracle, and one of the least well understood properties of this development is childhood amnesia, the fact that adults' earliest memories normally dates back to the age of 2-4 years, but not before that. We do learn many things before that age of course which remain with us, but they do not come in the form of episodic memory, in which we realize our self being in a certain situation. What exactly is the reason for childhood amnesia, and what are the functions necessary for the formation of episodic memory, nobody really knows. It is generally believed that it is connected to self-awareness and also language development, which comes with the ability to conceive of and understand narratives.

There is, interestingly, some research showing that the onset of memories differs between cultures and also between genders, see eg this pdf (women tend to recall more details). There is a line of research in which it has been suggested that early autobiographical memory formation depends on of the way in which parents talk about the past and encourage their children to do the same. It is also well known that emotionally intense events can be recalled back to very early age. Generally, high emotional impact is conductive to memory formation.

My earliest memory, I believe, is being bitten by a hamster. (I also recall having been told repeatedly to not stick my fingers into the cage, but, well.) I must have been roughly 3 years or so at that time. I also recall falling down the stairs, but that must have been later. I have a bunch of memories of my younger brother when he was old enough to walk, but not old enough to talk, which also dates me at about 3 years. Interestingly enough, I have absolutely no memory of my parents till past the age of 4. Which fits well with my perception that the girls do not so much take note of me as a person, but as a freely available service that's just around, like the air to breathe, but nothing that really requires attention.

Needless to say, I am wondering what one day will be Lara and Gloria's earliest memory.

14 comments:

Phillip Helbig said...

"Our two lovely ladies are still not willing to speak to us."

There can be several reasons for this, for example bad hearing or autism, but some people are just late talkers and no-one knows why (and apparently nothing else is wrong; if anything, in my experience such people tend to be above-average in intelligence).

Are you sure they can hear well? Responding to loud noises is not proof enough; there is a wide spectrum between total deafness and being able to hear well enough to learn a language.

Autism (which is more a description of several types of behaviour, not a single thing, and there is probably more than one cause) is not as common in girls, but can you rule this out? The rule of thumb is that the child needs to be at least two years old before it can be diagnosed. If there is anything else which might seem typical of (one of the many forms of) autism, this might be worth looking into.

Phillip Helbig said...
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Bee said...

Hi Phillip,

Thanks for your advice. I am not at this point very concerned. I suspect they might be confused by the language change that comes with our commute between Sweden and Germany. I think they hear just fine. Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...
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Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

I too have long been curious about childhood amnesia, with my earliest memory being sitting on the grass looking into our neighbour’s yard seemingly fascinated by the spinning wings of their ornamental lawn birds. From later conversation with my parents this would have been when I was approximately two. I’ve often wondered why such an event would have been so impactful to be remembered at such an early age, as I can’t remember much of anything else until about the age of four. With your observation that our parents don’t form to be part of our earliest memories, I would agree it’s because they represent to be part of our every day environment and not something found to be out of the norm. In this way I would connect parents more with being identified as part of self rather than something taken for granted.

As for you wondering about when your daughters might begin talking, with my own youngest daughter she went from not saying much of anything at all that was intelligible in terms of even single words, to expressing herself in near complete sentences; after which point it came in nearly a steady stream. My only explanation for this is perhaps she didn’t find she had anything interesting to say up until then. So based solely on my own experience, I would be preparing for the onslaught of what seemed after as then never ending revelation.


“The most interesting information comes from children, for they tell all they know and then stop”

-Mark Twain

Best,

Phil

Phillip Helbig said...

I have clear memories of things which happened when I was two. I remember my third birthday party clearly. This is earlier than most people; some can hardly remember their first day of school. In my case, it might be due to the fact that we moved when I was 3, and again when I was 4, and again when I was 5, so I know that if something happened at a particular place then I know approximately when it happened. I have noticed that people who have lived in the same house all their life tend to say they can't remember that far back. Maybe they can, but with no possibility of distinction, things melt into one another.

Phillip Helbig said...

I have a brother who is thirteen months younger. I distinctly remember my parents discussing possible names---they had the middle name first then tried to come up with a first name to match. I'm sure that this is not some story I heard which became a false memory. I don't know if this was before or after he was born, but in either case not that far from his birth, so I would have been about 13 months old then.

Bee said...

Hi Phillip,

Yes, in fact the only reason I can roughly date the memories I mentioned is that my family moved when I was a little younger than 4 years. Still, your memories are quite early, really amazing. I have a few more that I suspect came earlier, but they're mostly images (toys, household items, etc) and I have no clue how to date them. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

Well, let's just hope Lara and Gloria don't make a discontinuous jump to writing papers ;o) I guess that childhood amnesia is an area where a lot can be learned about how memory works, it seems to be quite an active research area. Best,

B.

Renate Weineck said...

Bee, you started talking rather late, because they asked me this, when you went to school.
So don't worry!

Bee said...

I still start talking rather late, ha-ha.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

I kind of like the thought of children being able to understand written language earlier than currently normally introduced. Interestingly perhaps such a thought forms to be one of the strongest and earliest memories of my father, with him sitting in his chair reading the newspaper and me looking at the paper he was staring at to find the scribbling to be totally unintelligible (that is except for the scattered photos and drawings). Also I’ve always found a lot of emotion connected with that memory, with perhaps first becoming aware with how much more I had to learn and how daunting such a prospect this seemed to be at the time. That memory I have estimated to be when I was three.

Best,

Phil

Phil Warnell said...
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Phil Warnell said...

Hi Renate,

With Bee’s now obviously advanced ability to communicate I find to be very consistent regarding my experience with my own daughter. So I would agree that her concern is more than likely misplaced, with perhaps her later only realizing how blessed she has been thus far with the silence ;-)

”My mother loved children - she would have given anything if I had been one.”

-Groucho Marx

Best,

Phil