Your precious newborn may seem undeveloped when compared to older babies, but newborns are born with certain memories and also with the ability to develop short- and long-term memories. By 6 months, babies can remember some events that occurred the previous day, states developmental scientist Patricia J. Bauer, with Emory University, in an article on the Zero to Three website.
At birth, newborns possess implicit memories, which are memories an infant developed while in the womb and that he can recall once he is born, states an article published on the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services' Child Welfare Information Gateway. Implicit memories, such as recognizing his mother's voice, can enhance the attachments a newborn forms to caregivers, because unconscious memories -- such as recognizing a voice -- help newborns feel secure with the voice and with the caregiver.
As the months roll by, a baby’s short-term memory develops so that he can remember people and objects. By 4 months, a baby can recognize a toy if it goes out of sight for a few seconds, according to psychologist Lisa Oakes, of the Infant Cognition Lab at the U.C. Davis Center for Mind and Brain. By 4 to 6 months of age, a baby can recognize a small change in an object and by 10 months, a baby can remember several changes. This ability to detect and remember changes illustrates that short-term memory has developed.
Object permanence develops during the sensorimotor stage between 4 and 7 months, and enables a baby to understand that people and objects continue to exist even when he can’t see them, according to Saul McLeod in the article "Sensorimotor Stage" in Simply Psychology. This understanding extends to the ball that rolled under the couch, the dog that disappeared into its doghouse and the parent who left to run an errand. The baby will look for the missing object or person. Object permanence can lead to separation anxiety as a baby misses a parent who left because he doesn't know when the parent will return, states KidsHealth. The fact that a baby experiences separation anxiety is a major milestone, because, as Jean Piaget demonstrated and as McLeod noted, separation anxiety indicates that the baby was able to create a firm mental picture of an object or person. When he does not see his mom, he knows his mom is not in the room and begins to wonder where she is.
Long-term memory refers to a person's ability to remember and recall people, objects, sensations, visual memories and other information, for long periods of time. Babies are not born with long-term memory but they do develop the ability to remember things that happened long ago. Creating long-term memories requires consolidation within the temporal lobe of the brain -- but the brain is not mature enough for this process until the child is well beyond infancy, according to Bauer. Even when consolidation begins, the process is slow and easily interrupted.
Verbal skills typically explode around age 2, which coincides with the beginning of explicit memories, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway. Explicit memories are conscious memories connected with language development. Language skills enable little ones to communicate thoughts and express emotions, which eventually aid in long-term memory for some events. The more a youngster talks about an event with others, the more these thoughts and expressed emotions will transfer into long-term memories simply because of repetition.