Researchers provide new clues about infantile amnesia using brain imaging tests

According to a study released by Yale University, the hippocampus region of an infant’s brain is active by three months of age, recognizing and learning new patterns, based on testing using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

As publicized in the journal Current Biology, the results of the Yale study may provide new clues pertaining to infantile amnesia.

The phenomenon known as infantile amnesia involves the inability of mature adults to retrieve certain episodic memories before the age of two to four.

In past studies, researchers implicated the hippocampus and its lack of development, as an explanation for the amnesic occurrences. But new research used fMRI tests to examine the activity of the hippocampus of 17 infants during 3 months of age to two years old.

“What might be happening is that as a baby gains experience in the world, their brain searches for general patterns that help them understand and predict the surrounding environment. This happens even though the brain is not equipped to permanently store each individual experience about a specific moment in space and time – the hallmark of episodic memory that is also lost in adult amnesia,” a co-author of the study explained in a news release.

“The strategy makes sense because learning general knowledge — such as patterns of sounds that make up the words in a language — may be more important to a baby than remembering specific details, such as a single incident in which a particular word was uttered.”

Based on the authors of the study, the size of the hippocampus grows substantially within the first two years of life, allowing for intricate connections needed for the brain to store episodic memories.

All in all, the findings inch researchers closer to fully understanding the origination of infantile amnesia.

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