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A number of theories as to the source of childhood amnesia have been advanced.
Whereas memories of many past experiences seemingly come and go, there is a period of life from which adults reliably fail to recall much if anything at all.
Well over 100 years ago, Miles (1893) published the first account in a psychological journal of the phenomenon that would come to be known as infantile amnesia or childhood amnesia: the relative paucity among adults of verbally accessible memories from the first 3-4 years of life.
In a research area in which theories about function in childhood were advanced in the absence of data from children, it is perhaps not surprising to learn that the "expected" rate of forgetting is derived solely from work with adults.
For example, in their oft-cited demonstration of the phenomenon of childhood amnesia, Wetzler and Sweeney (1986) applied to adult data (from Rubin, 1982) a forgetting function based on memories from age 8 until adulthood.
Beginning in the middle 1980s, several research laboratories walked through the door.
Robyn Fivush and her colleagues (Fivush, Gray, & Fromhoff, 1987) published one of the first reports of autobiographical recall by children only 2½ years of age.
The children provided verbal descriptions of unique events experienced 6 or more months in the past.
Several other reports followed, each indicating that within the period eventually obscured by childhood amnesia, children had remarkably rich autobiographies (for reviews, see Bauer, in press-b; Nelson & Fivush, 2004).
Not only were preschoolers found to remember but, using imitation-based tasks, researchers revealed mnemonic competence in children even before they could talk (Bauer, 2004).
In imitation-based tasks, children watch an adult use props to produce an action or sequence of actions that children then are invited to imitate.