Can a Person Remember Being Born?

Think back to your earliest memory. Perhaps images of a birthday party or scenes from a family vacation come to mind. Now think about your age when that event occurred. Chances are that earliest recollection extends no further back than your third birthday. In fact, you can probably come up with only a handful of memories from between the ages of 3 and 7. Psychologists refer to this inability of most adults to remember evens from early life — including their birth — as infantile amnesia. Despite the fact that people can’t remember much before the age of 3, research suggests that infants can form memories — just not the kind of memories you tell about yourself. Within the first few days of life, infants can recall their own mother’s face and distinguish it from the face of a stranger. A few months later, infants can demonstrate that they remember lots of familiar faces by smiling most at the ones they see frequently. If infants can form memories in their first few months, why don’t people remember things from that earliest stage of life? It still isn’t clear whether people experience infantile amnesia because we can’t form autobiographical memories, but one theory is that autobiographical memories require you to have some sense of self, and at birth you don’t. That’s because the hippocampus — the region of the brain that’s largely responsible for memory — isn’t fully developed in the infancy period. In some ways, we may actually be better off not remembering our own birth.