Do you ever find yourself reminiscing about childhood memories? Everyone does this at some point or another. Often when individuals reflect on the most nostalgic aspects of their lives, parts of their childhood or young adulthood are the most powerful memories that they can reflect upon. Why is there such a strong resonance with the memories of our childhood? And what are the consequences of engaging with nostalgia about our childhood in our present day?
Childhood Memories, Childhood Amnesia
As much as our childhood memories can be powerful and emotional, in some ways what’s even more fascinating about our childhoods is what we no longer remember. For most of us, there are whole years of our early childhoods where we can recall one or two memories at best. Understanding childhood amnesia and its implications is a popular area of scientific research.
Psychologists have shown that we, in fact, do have the ability to form long-term memories at a very young age, but until the age of six or eight, we tend to shed them almost as soon as we make them.1 Meaning at the age of four you may remember things from when you were two, but by the time your turn five all of those memories are gone.
This has been something of a conundrum for researchers. Some theorize that the reason we aren’t able to retain memories at a young age is that we lack self-awareness and verbal communication skills. Others suggest that the reason we can’t store long-term memories at early ages because our brains are still in the process of learning how to do so.2
Retrieving Memories from the Past
Many individuals also regret the fact that they don’t have as many memories from their childhood as they would like. Research has demonstrated that this can sometimes be the result of difficulties in early life.3 It is a coping mechanism of the brain to block out the memories of emotionally difficult events, especially if they occurred at young ages. This can lead to questions about memories in adulthood.
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In the 1980s, recovering memories from childhood, especially memories about sexual abuse, was a trend in therapeutic circles. But eventually, the American Psychological Association concluded that it is actually quite rare for children to repress or completely forget a traumatic event.4
Today, research is pointing to new horizons in regards to the connection between memory and childhood. Primarily, studies are suggesting that individuals do have the ability to recall childhood memories through the use of tools like interviewing, reflecting on shows or media from the past, or even using scents.
The Impact of Childhood Memories
This aligns with the personal experience of many people, who report that some of the most vivid and emotionally impactful memories stem from their childhood. It is a cliche to identify young people as “impressionable” but it is true. Studies have demonstrated that our memories help us build up a sense of who we are and our relationship to the world around us. These moments activate our core emotional center and are more likely to become long-term memories. Children, in general, tend to be more easily overcome by their emotions and are soaking up the world around them in order to make sense of their lives. For these reasons, childhood memories can be some of the most evocative and impactful memories we have access to.
Because our memories play such an important role in our development and our sense of self, researchers are even encouraging parents to cultivate memory skills in their young children.5 Children who are encouraged to reflect upon their experiences and develop coherent narratives in regards to their past have better problem-solving skills and can cope more easily with challenges.
Childhood Memories and Nostalgia
Another important discovery in neurological research surrounds the benefits of nostalgia. It’s becoming well established that engaging with the experience of nostalgia can improve your sense of motivation, increase your productivity, and even decrease your experience of loneliness or disconnection. Understanding the emotional weight of your childhood memories and discovering ways to tap into that experience could be a great tool for your overall psychological well-being. One way that has become increasingly popular is using aromatherapy or essential oils from our childhoods to trigger our most powerful memories. Give it a try yourself with blends like Pumpkin Spice or Cheer that have flavors that will bring you back to pleasant holiday memories and let us know what you discover!
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