Scientific Research: Lost Memories

This article reveals the scientific research about our lost memories and scientific methods that may help us to restore them.

Scientific Research: How Scientists Try to Restore Early Memories

Scientists are looking for a way to restore early childhood memories that are mistakenly considered lost forever. This is not just a whim, but a potential opportunity to learn to block traumatic memories from childhood that affect the future life of a person. Maybe, your long-term memory blocks you from studying well, hah? Let us find out how scientists plan to find a solution to this issue with a help of Information here.

Infant Amnesia

What is your earliest memory? No matter how you try, it is most likely that you cannot remember a single moment from the first few years of your life. The point is not that at this age we cannot remember information. At the age from two to three years, we begin to develop motor skills and learn to communicate. Then we begin to realize which things we like and which – not. The experience that we are gaining at this stage of life greatly affects the behavior in the future. Is there a way to restore these memories?

This phenomenon is called a neonatal or infantile amnesia. Scientists believe that the rapid growth of new neurons at this stage of human life is the reason for our inability to recall some of the details of the early childhood. The development of new neurons can interfere the process of preserving memories and hinder this process in order to clear the place for new information.

Restoring Memories

“Missing” childhood memories remain the topic of scientific research for many years. Sigmund Freud tried to get them by penetrating the subconscious of the patient with the help of hypnosis. His colleagues used other methods, for example, visualization or imaginary therapy. Its essence is that if a person has at least the slightest memory of an episode from childhood, the therapist with the help of leading questions can restore memories. However, this method proves doubt of many scientists, since the subconscious has the ability to visualize events that did not actually happen. In this case, the truth can mix with fiction.

How can we restore memories with the help of science? Scientists conducted a study on rats at the age of 17 days (which is equivalent to infant age for a human). The animals were in the same conditions as the developing people – they learned new skills. They found that young rats could recognize and remember a certain section of the box with the current carried to it, but all these memories disappeared in one day. Old rats have remembered about the current for a longer time. Nevertheless, the right stimulus can awaken memories of young rats. Thus, scientists came to the conclusion that we do not lose our memories permanently but only save them somewhere deep in the brain.

Is It Safe?

The staff of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Britain was strictly prohibited from trying to restore the memories of patients in any way. In 1995, the researchers of the college conducted experiments to restore memories of child sexual abuse. The Collegium decided not to publish the results because they turned out to be very “contradictory and generating disagreements.” However, three years later the report was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry. The authors stated that the restoration of memories can be dangerous because of the lack of a clear understanding of the mechanisms of this process. Researchers also argued that it is impossible to fully rely on “restored” memories.


It is a very rare situation, but it still happens that forgotten childhood memories come up spontaneously. This happens most often because of the repetition of the circumstances when something hidden in memory happens again. Psychologist Daniel Schacter talks about the patient, who was subjected to violence in childhood and this happened on the pavement. The words “paving stone” and “pavement” did not restore her memories, but literally, put her into depression.

Physicist Robert Wood conducted a small experiment with his daughter: at the age of one year, he regularly arranged the explosion of a small figure of a dog in front of her eyes. Then he stopped these demonstrations and only at a conscious age showed his daughter that figure again. The girl remembered fathers tricks and the feeling of pity she felt for that dog.

Practical Experiments

Such an approach was also confirmed by the experiments of Susumu Tonegawa. In hippocampus cells, there are engram traces that appear as a result of the action of some stimulus. Thus, if you repeat this stimulus whether it is smell, taste or atmosphere, these engrams can be activated. Tonegawa and his colleagues experimented with mice. They put them in a cage where mice were electrocuted. The mice automatically froze in fear when they were in the cage the next time, even if there was no current. Then the scientists cleaned the memories of animals with the help of special preparations, after which the mice behaved in a cage as usual. When the researchers stimulated neurons with a flash of light, without any current, the mice were “frozen” again.

Researchers believe that the more emotional the child’s experience was, the more likely he/she will be able to remember it. Carol Peterson, the professor at the University of Newfoundland, found that people, who had a serious painful physiological trauma and spent some time in the hospital, saved these memories well, even if they were then less than three years old.

Psychological Protection

Alessio Travaglia, the researcher at the University of New York, put forward the hypothesis that these latent memories are responsible for the so-called memory failures that we are experiencing when we are adults. These failures can be the result of stimulating unpleasant, hidden memories. Comparing the brains of young and adult rats, scientists also found that in their hippocampus, the number of proteins could increase or decrease. This phenomenon was caused by the learning process, not by the time passing by. One specific protein, BDNF, occurred to be particularly important: it is able to protect the memories of young rats. Hypothetically, such injections can prevent the loss of early memories. However, the team of researchers is primarily interested in how they can be used to block or even eliminate traumatic memories.

Hence, the research is at an early stage, and people behind it understand that the data obtained is not enough for testing it on humans. Scientists also note that mechanisms of a memory of people and rats differ a lot, and these discoveries can hardly be applied to people. However, the researchers believe that the results of the experiments will be very significant for understanding the work of human memory and the brain in whole.

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