The mystery of our earliest memories 人類早期記憶的謎團

Why is it that we can't remember the first two years of our lives? We explore why children forget.
How far back can you remember?

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童年期遺忘的謎團過去一個世紀以來一直困惑著科學家們。為什麼在人類的幼兒期,一個充滿體驗和學習新事物的階段,卻被許多難以理解的事物而籠罩?本期《隨身英語》探索可能導致我們遺忘幼兒時期經歷的原因。

課文內容


詞彙:記憶

What is your earliest memory? For me, I have a hazy recollection of standing in a leafy garden surrounded by silver birch trees when I was four years old.

I’m around average: some people remember events as far back as two years old, while for others, things seem patchy until seven or eight.

But what is consistent is that no one can remember their own birth or very early infancy. And even after the first memory, most of us only have a sporadic collection of fleeting, flickering mental images until much later in childhood.

The phenomenon is known as ‘childhood amnesia‘, a term coined by the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. So, what’s going on here?

Babies are, writes Zaria Gorvett for BBC Future, “sponges for new information, forming 700 new neural connections every second and wielding language-learning skills to make the most accomplished polyglot green with envy“.

And it’s precisely this rapid mental development that causes the problem, according to a study by the University of Toronto in 2014. It found that the high rate of infant brain cell production could increase forgetfulness, because new cells interfere with existing mental circuits.

Another possible explanation is that the part of the brain that stores memories, the hippocampus, is not fully formed until around 18 months. Identity is also important: tests show infants don’t recognise themselves in the mirror until they are around two years old.

Finally, there’s the question of how accurate our early memories are at all. “People can pick up suggestions and begin to visualise them – they become like memories,” psychologist Elizabeth Loftus told the BBC. Are our cherished first memories really just family stories?

詞彙表

hazy 模糊的、不清晰的
recollection 記憶,往事
silver birch 白樺樹
patchy 零零碎碎的,拼湊起來的
infancy 嬰兒期、年幼時候
sporadic 零星的,分散的
fleeting 一閃而過的,短暫的
amnesia 失憶,健忘(症)
to coin 創造,杜撰(新詞或表達)
psychoanalysis 精神分析學
sponge 像海綿般地吸收(訊息)
neural 神經的
to wield 施加影響
accomplished 有造詣的,有才華的
polyglot 通曉多種語言的人
green with envy 非常羨慕,十分嫉妒
forgetfulness 健忘
to interfere 干預,干涉
to visualise 設想,想像
cherished 珍惜的,珍愛的

測驗與練習

1. 閱讀課文並回答問題。

1. Why can’t people remember the first years of their lives? 

2. What does it mean to be a ‘sponge for new information’?

3. True or false? Babies are accomplished polyglots.

4. Which word means ‘very green and covered in plants’?

5. Why might our earliest memories actually be false?

2. 請你在不參考課文的情況下完成下列練習。選擇一個意思合適的單字填入句子的空格處。

1. My memory of the party is a bit _________. 

flickering         patched         hazy         amnesia

2. _________ don’t form lasting memories.

Childhood         Infant         Infancy         Infants

3. Brian is very _________. He can’t remember what he ate for lunch!

forgetful         forgetfulness         forgettable         forgotten

4. Wang Li is like a _________. She learned how to use HTML in a week.

psychoanalyst         sponge         hippocampus         polyglot

5. People say that if you can _________ success, it makes you more likely to be successful.

coin         interfere with         visualise         wield

答案

1. 閱讀課文並回答問題。

1. Why can’t people remember the first years of their lives?
Three reasons are given. Firstly, in the first years of our lives our brains are growing so fast that new brain cells interfere with existing mental circuits. Secondly, the hippocampus is not fully formed until 18 months old. Thirdly, babies don’t develop a sense of identity until around two years old.

2. What does it mean to be a ‘sponge for new information’?
Being a ‘sponge’ means you acquire a lot of new information very quickly, the same way a sponge fills with water.

3. True or false? Babies are accomplished polyglots.
False. Although babies learn languages very fast, an ‘accomplished polyglot’ is someone who has learned several languages to a very high level.

4. Which word means ‘very green and covered in plants’?
Leafy.

5. Why might our earliest memories actually be false?
According to Elizabeth Loftus, people pick up suggestions and visualise them – this makes these mental images seem like memories.

2. 請你在不參考課文的情況下完成下列練習。選擇一個意思合適的單字填入句子的空格處。

1. My memory of the party is a bit hazy.

2. Infants don’t form lasting memories.

3. Brian is very forgetful. He can’t remember what he ate for lunch!

4. Wang Li is like a sponge. She learned how to use HTML in a week.

5. People say that if you can visualise success, it makes you more likely to be successful.

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