According to Freud, people are unable to remember when they are born because it is a traumatic experience, and such experiences are placed in the unconscious, meaning they are forgotten, unintentionally. Being born is a traumatic experience because of the fact that a fetus is, basically, being pulled from an environment that it has gotten used to over the course of nine months. This environment is one in which there was food, warmth, and comfort. When the child is born, it comes into a cold, dry, loud place, totally unlike the warm, muffled sounds of the womb, and it is a shocking experience.
For a newborn, this is not only too much for their brain to process, it shocks them into repression. In sociology, this rapid introduction into a new world is known as culture shock, in which the subject being introduced has no idea where they are or what to do, and there is a type of panic. This panic causes the brain to lose the information, that is called repression. By definition, repression is the process by which the unpleasant or traumatic incident is pushed into the unconscious and forgotten.
There are about 100 billion different nerves and receptors in the brain of a newborn, but they work at such a rudimentary level, that they are incapable of holding that information.This could also be a reason why birth is a forgotten part of life and pushed to an unconscious level in the brain. The brain functions as the center of human thought, and those thoughts that are unpleasant, or cause trauma, are, somehow, forgotten. This repression forces those thoughts away from the conscious brain.
Some people say that they have dreams of being born, and this is not totally ridiculous. These people have such dreams because the repressed memories are resurfacing in the dream, and people experience these visions. Often times, they do not even remember having the dream or having the sensation of being born because it is a part of the unconscious.
Freud says that repression is one of the strongest and most regularly used defense mechanisms because it is easier to put something out of ones mind, than to try to ignore it (Wood 433).
According to a study by Nelson and Ross in 1980, the following hypothesis was formed:
Children would show early childhood amnesia and that this could be tested by comparing obtained estimates of memory strength to values predicted by a standard retention function. The data collected confirmed this hypothesis for 6- and 10- year-old children and suggests that the early childhood amnesia period extends from birth to a point between the third and fourth birthdays. The data also supported the prediction, derived from the aforementioned model, that children would report a disproportionate number of memories from the amnesia period.
Nelson and Ross go on to say the following things, to add to the validity of their findings:
A fundamental characteristic of human memory is that, as time passes there is a decline in the probability that a specific episode in ones life can be recalled.
For example, a child may forget a particularly bad spanking or punishment received by their parent because they would rather forget the incident than have to think about what happened. Also, it is more difficult for a child to encode information from short term to long-term memory, so they do not understand the difference between the two (Berger 172).
In addition to the studies of Nelson and Ross, a group of three named Graesser,
Gordon, and Sawyer came to this conclusion in 1979:
Coding involves some form of abstraction and that particular events are encoded as instances of scripted activities rather than as complete memories for each episode.
The same source of the above information continues with a statement that sums up the notion of childhood amnesia with the following:
With development, the memory system is able to differentiate among events, which frees that child from heavy reliance on scripted information. Unfortunately, Nelson and others are not clear regarding the fate of memories for single events, but Nelson (1984) did write that If unrepeated experiences tend to fade, drop out, or become inaccessible with time, one could adequately account for all the data (p.109). This can be read as implying that memories for single events formed during this period are forgotten at the same rate as memories formed in other periods.
Because of continued research in the area of childhood amnesia and the effects that it has on what a child does and does not remember, there will be further advances in the knowledge that is currently available to the following generations of researchers. Scientists such as Nelson and Ross, and Freud have explained that children remember very few things that they want to, or the things that have not been repeated throughout their lives.
Birth is an event in the life of a child that is very traumatic because of the type of culture shock that they experience. When pulled from their mothers womb, a child enters a cold world, where they are forced to breathe differently and are no longer secluded from the rest of the world around them and their mother. It is a memory that is repressed unintentionally, but is still there, as Freud would tell one, without hesitation. The unconscious controls the instincts of people and reactions to the world around them, and is as much a part of life as the conscious mind or the preconscious mind, but serves the roll of a storage space or closet, in which humans hide their deepest thoughts and most unpleasant thoughts, as well. Those who are able to remember their birth are people that have something called total recall, which means they know and understand everything about their own life history, including the trauma of birth and all the unpleasant events that will follow during their lifetime. But that is highly unlikely and these persons are few and far between.