The onset of childhood amnesia in childhood: a prospective investigation of the course and determinants of forgetting of early-life events

Memory. 2014;22(8):907-24. doi: 10.1080/09658211.2013.854806. Epub 2013 Nov 18.


The present research was an examination of the onset of childhood amnesia and how it relates to maternal narrative style, an important determinant of autobiographical memory development. Children and their mothers discussed unique events when the children were 3 years of age. Different subgroups of children were tested for recall of the events at ages 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 years. At the later session they were interviewed by an experimenter about the events discussed 2 to 6 years previously with their mothers (early-life events). Children aged 5, 6, and 7 remembered 60% or more of the early-life events. In contrast, children aged 8 and 9 years remembered fewer than 40% of the early-life events. Overall maternal narrative style predicted children's contributions to mother-child conversations at age 3 years; it did not have cross-lagged relations to memory for early-life events at ages 5 to 9 years. Maternal deflections of the conversational turn to the child predicted the amount of information children later reported about the early-life events. The findings have implications for our understanding of the onset of childhood amnesia and the achievement of an adult-like distribution of memories in the school years. They highlight the importance of forgetting processes in explanations of the amnesia.

Keywords: Autobiographical memory; Childhood amnesia; Long-term memory; Maternal style; Narrative.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aging / psychology
  • Amnesia / psychology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Mental Recall
  • Mothers
  • Narration
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology