In this article I want to focus on two different types of memory; these are :
- EPISODIC MEMORY
- PROCEDURAL MEMORY
Let’s look at each of these in turn :
- EPISODIC MEMORY :
This part of our memory deals with happenings and events. For example, our memory of our first day at school (if we have one – I don’t, as it happens) is an EPISODIC MEMORY, as is our memory (again, if we have one – again, I don’t) of our seventh birthday.
Most people do not have any EPISODIC MEMORIES that predate their third birthday and many others do not have any EPISODIC MEMORIES which predate their fifth birthday. (I have virtually no memory of anything before I was about eight years old, which is unusual).
Freud called these deficiencies in early episodic memories infantile amnesia and that the cause of this memory loss was repression. However, modern neuroscience suggests that Freud was mistaken and that the real reason that early episodic memories fail to form is due to the fact that the brain has not developed sufficiently to create and store such memories (in technical terms, insufficient MYELINATION has occurred in the brain for episodic memory to function adequately).
However, if we can’t remember significant chunks of our childhoods that occurred AFTER ABOUT THE AGE OF FIVE YEARS, modern psychodynamic theory assumes that THIS failure of episodic memory IS due to repression. In other words, the theory suggests we have unconsciously ‘buried’ (i.e. repressed) these memories as they are too painful, distressing and traumatizing to hold in (or, indeed, be permitted direct access to) conscious memory.
2) PROCEDURAL MEMORY :
Procedural memory works on an unconscious level and starts to function, unlike episodic memory (see above), as soon as we are born. It stores memories of how to perform tasks (during the period we learn how to perform these tasks) and stores this knowledge in long-term memory so that when we try to perform the task again we know how to do so without consciously thinking about it and without being able, again on a conscious level, to remember precisely how we learned to do it in the first place. This sounds a little complicated so here’s a (hopefully elucidating) example :
We know how to walk even though we do it without thinking about it (i.e. on ‘autopilot’) and without being able to remember learning to do it. Therefore, knowing how to walk relies on procedural memory.
This type of memory is also sometimes referred to as IMPLICIT MEMORY and, as well as things like learning to crawl, walk and talk, implicit memory also stores information about how we interacted with, and related to, our primary care-givers in our earliest years; and, again, this memory is stored unconsciously.
However, even though this information about how we related in very early life to our primary care-givers does not have access to conscious recall, it still, according to modern psychodynamic theory, powerfully affects how we relate to others in adult life. Indeed, if, for example, our primary care-giver in early life was frequently aggressive towards us then this information is stored in implicit memory and puts us at high risk of being highly susceptible to the effects of stress in later life.
And this theory is reinforced by neuroscientific experiments which have found that if we are subjected to significant stress in early life this actually adversely affects the brain’s physical development, and, in particular, the development of a brain region called the amygdala which plays a central role in the brain’s reaction to external stressors.
We can conclude that, according to modern psychodynamic theory, if large chunks of our childhood (after the age of about five years) are ‘missing’ from our memory, it is quite possible we have repressed the memory of these parts of our lives as they were too disturbing and traumatizing to be ‘permitted’ direct access to conscious memory.
Also, if our very early relationships (before our episodic memory started to function effectively) with our primary care-givers were highly stressful, this may have adversely affected our brain’s physical development (leading to adult difficulties dealing with stress, amongst other problems) even though we cannot remember this very early part of our lives.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).
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