York seminar series explores why adults lose early childhood memories

Why don’t most adults retain memories from early childhood, prior to age four? That’s one of the questions that drives the research of Emory University Professor Patricia Bauer, who will discuss how memories develop when she speaks at York on March 13, as part of the Advanced Research Seminar Series "The Infant as an Integrated Whole", organized by York Professors Scott Adler and Maria Legerstee.

Her talk, titled "Building Memories from the Ground Up: Behavioral and Electrophysiological Indices of Developmental Change", takes place from 4:30 to 5:30pm, in the Harry Crowe Room, 109 Atkinson Building, Keele campus.

Until recently, infants were assumed to lack the ability to form, maintain and later retrieve memories of past events. It was thought that neural memory structures were not fully developed in infants and young children. Non-verbal tests, however, indicate that developments in recall of the past are well underway by late in the first year of life, and by the end of the second year, long-term recall is reliable and robust. So why don’t adults have a wealth of early memories?

Right: Patricia Bauer

That’s what Bauer, the principal investigator at the Bauer Memory Development Lab at Emory, is hoping to find out through her research into the complex process of memory. She says many of the same factors that affect memory in older children and adults also influence memory in infants, but there are also pronounced developmental changes in memory during those first few years. "By combining behavioural and electrophysiological measures, my colleagues and I are working to understand how the functional changes we observe relate to developments in the basic processes of encoding, consolidation, storage and retrieval of information from memory and to neuro-developmental changes that take place in the same period of time."

Bauer and colleagues are conducting prospective studies, tracking what happens to early memories in preschoolers as they grow, develop and get older. She is also identifying what determines what is remembered and what is forgotten, and looking at where individual, familial and cultural influences fit in the shaping of autobiographical memory.

Understanding the neural, cognitive and social contributions to what’s known as the phenomenon of childhood amnesia, is also important to Bauer, senior associate dean for research in Emory College at the university and the Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Psychology. She is also investigating the memories of premature infants, internationally adopted infants and maltreated infants.

Bauer is the author of Remembering the Times of Our Lives: Memory in Infancy and Beyond (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2006) and co-editor of Short- and Long-Term Memory in Infancy and Early Childhood (Oxford University Press, 2007). She is also the editor of the Journal of Cognition and Development.

From 1989 to 2005, Bauer was a faculty member in the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota. She then worked in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University for two years before joining the faculty of Emory University in 2007.

The lecture is sponsored by the Department of Psychology in York’s Faculty of Health and the Office of the Vice-President of Research & Innovation at York University. It is part of an ongoing series of presentations. All are welcome.