Most people will tell you that the earliest memory is something that happened around the time they were 3 or 4 years old. And that’s true when we are talking about narrative memory. Narrative memory, or explicit memory, is what we typically think of when we talk about memory. It’s the ability to consciously recall something that happened in the past and tell a story about it. Explicit memory is governed by the hippocampus, which matures around the age of 3 and coincides with increased language mastery.
However, there’s another kind of memory that most people aren’t aware of. It’s called implicit memory and I happen to find it incredibly fascinating. Implicit memory is governed by the amygdala, which is a part of the limbic system that is mature at birth (and probably even earlier, but no one is quite sure about that yet.) The amygdala encodes and stores highly emotionally charged memories as implicit memories beginning at birth. Throughout our lives, we remember these implicit memories but because they were encoded without language, the recall is sensory and visceral and not conscious. Implicit memories directly affect our mood and actions throughout our lives even though we can’t consciously tell a story about those memories. Oh, and because recalling implicit memories isn’t conscious, forgetting does not apply. How crazy is that? Those earliest emotional experiences live in our brain throughout the rest of our lives, directly impacting our beliefs and actions. Let me say it again, EARLY EXPERIENCES MATTER.
Let me know what you think! Had you heard of implicit memory before? Have you noticed patterns of behavior in your own life that may be linked to implicit memory?