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Investigating Childhood Amnesia


You can investigate childhood amnesia by conducting a survey of 16-19 year olds who happen to have younger brothers or sisters. Ask them how much they remember about the circumstances of the birth of the sibling. (Ask questions like was it at home or in hospital, what they were doing at the time, how long the mother was away, what presents the baby received, etc.) Compare the amount of information recalled (you will have to assume it is accurate) with the age that the person remembering was at the time of the birth. If you use a standardised procedure you can pool your results as a group.


Using basically this procedure, Sheingold and Tenney (1982) found that participants who were younger than 3 years at the time of the birth recalled little or no information. Those who were 4 had an impressive grasp of detail, better in fact than participants who were 5 at the time of the birth. From that age onwards, as you would expect, detail gradually increased as the intervening years decreased (a negative correlation).


As in other cases this activity potentially involves the recall of emotionally sensitive areas of an individual’s memory. People should be informed about this before participating, their consent must be obtained and the confidentiality of the information ensured.


For more recent research on Childhood Amnesia, including some qulaifications to Sheingold & Tenney's findings see Eacott &  Crawley (1999)


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