Wednesday, January 10, 2007

How You Begin to Remember

Pregnancy books have started to totally bore me. So now I'm reading about parenting. I'm reading a fascinating book at the moment and just learned the following about how we develop memory, our ability to respond to experience by altering the connections among our neurons. These connections are make the structure of your brain and how it functions and makes your mind. There are two kinds: implicit and explicit.

First, we form implicit memories and "mental models." These are not things that feel like conscious recollections, because that part of the brain is not formed yet. Instead they cause emotions, behavioral responses, perception, etc. They are generalizations we form from repeated experiences. So for instance you may have cried and your mom comforted you again and again. Mom becomes safe and responsive and you become capable of impacting people and getting needs met. So many years later, after you've managed to have a totally messed up relationship with her say, you still might really have the urge to call her when you're sick or in distress.

After we turn about one year old we start to develop our hippocampus and have some new circuitry that allows us to begin having explicit memories. By one and a half we can have some semantic or factual memory, and by two years old we can have autobiographical memory. Before two the period is known as "childhood amnesia," not from trauma, but from not having the right wiring in our brains yet for these recollected, "explicit" memories that require a sense of self and of time. This kind of sense comes with the prefrontal cortex development, which is where we process much of our self awareness abilities.



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