From: The Atlantic

Traces of Times Lost

The Atlantic:

The slippery baby in the plastic blue tub cringes when her daddy, holding a drippy orange washcloth, leaks a bit of water in her face. He is bathing her for the first time. “Make sure you get the folds in her neck, where milk hides,” I say, video recording the scene on my iPhone. We are new parents delighting in and stumbling through this moment.

The three-year-old girl with pink paint-chipped toenails watches my iPhone video of that day when Daddy bathed her for the first time. She cringes as she sees her smaller self  cringe. My daughter requested this clip out of more than 400, all starring her, most of which she has watched before. We are snuggled up on the sofa. Her eyes fixate on the feet of the squirming infant on screen. She knows she was once that newborn. “Babies don’t get nail polish,” she says, looking down to admire her toddler feet. “I’m a big girl now.”

Yet Katherine Nelson, a developmental psychologist at City University of New York who studied child memory for decades, tells me: “It is still an open question as to whether and when very young children have true episodic memories.” Even if they appear to, she explains, these memories are fragile and susceptible to suggestion.

Last year, researchers from Yale University and the University of Arizona published a study in Psychological Science proclaiming that morality is more central to identity than memory. The authors studied patients with frontotemporal dementia (in which damage to the brain’s prefrontal cortex can lead to dishonesty and socially unacceptable behavior), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, which affects muscle control), and Alzheimer’s disease (which robs a person of memory). The research found that as long as moral capacity is not impaired, the self persists, even when memory is compromised.

As it turns out, the childhood memories we lose remain with us—albeit in a different form, as the underpinnings of our morality and instincts. This is what attachment theory supposes, says Robyn Fivush, the director of the Family Narratives Lab in the psychology department at Emory University.

Brian Levine, a senior scientist at the Rotman Research Institute in Toronto, believes children do form true episodic memories, but don’t retain them due to neurogenesis.

Read the whole story: The Atlantic

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