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Beginning in the middle 1980s, several research laboratories walked through the door.Robyn Fivush and her colleagues (Fivush, Gray, & Fromhoff, 1987) published one of the first reports of autobiographical recall by children only 2½ years of age.
Indeed, it is the apparently "off the charts" rate of forgetting that makes the phenomenon so mysterious.
But what, precisely, is the "expected" rate of forgetting?
The children provided verbal descriptions of unique events experienced 6 or more months in the past.
Several other reports followed, each indicating that within the period eventually obscured by childhood amnesia, children had remarkably rich autobiographies (for reviews, see Bauer, in press-b; Nelson & Fivush, 2004).
(Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, 1872, emphasis in original)In his brief dialogue between the King and the Queen-two of the chess-piece sovereigns of Looking-glass House-Lewis Carroll captured the complementary sides of the memory coin.
The King, having experienced a "horrifying" event (being set upon a table by Alice, a relative giant whom the King could neither see nor hear) expresses absolute faith in remembering.When preschoolers were tested with materials that were inherently structured and meaningful-such as well formed stories (e.g., Mandler & Johnson, 1977) and familiar, "scripted" events (e.g., what happens at a fast food restaurant: e.g., Nelson, 1978)-their memories were well organized and accurate, albeit not as detailed as those of older children and adults.Observations of preschoolers' abilities to recall stories and report on scripted events opened the door for inquiries into their abilities to recall the stuff of which autobiographical memories are made, namely, unique events from the personal past.Not only were preschoolers found to remember but, using imitation-based tasks, researchers revealed mnemonic competence in children even before they could talk (Bauer, 2004).In imitation-based tasks, children watch an adult use props to produce an action or sequence of actions that children then are invited to imitate.The answer likely lies in the complement of remembering, namely, forgetting.Forgetting is in fact a critical component of the definition of childhood amnesia: a smaller number of memories from before the age of 7 years than would be expected based on forgetting alone.The reasons for the lack of attention to children's memories were both theoretical and empirical.The dominant model-Piagetian theory-suggested that it was not until children were of school age that they formed coherent memories of past events. When children were tested with standard laboratory materials (e.g., lists of unrelated words), they performed poorly.A number of theories as to the source of childhood amnesia have been advanced.Perhaps most infamously, Freud (1916/1966) attributed "the remarkable amnesia of childhood" to repression of inappropriate or disturbing content of early, often traumatic (due to their sexual nature) experiences.