If Human Brains are Slow to Wire, How Can Early Memories be Accurate?

English: Evolution of the prefrontal cortex, f...

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 Human Brains Wire Up Slowly but Surely

by Jon Cohen on 1 February 2012, 6:00 PM |sn-synapticdevo.jpg
Synaptic division. Compared with chimpanzees, human children slowly wire their brains.
Credit: Fotosearch

” … a key feature of our brains that sets us apart from our closest relatives: We unhurriedly make synaptic connections through much of our early childhoods, and this plasticity enables us to slowly wire our brains based on our experiences. … Now a study that looks at postmortem brain samples from humans, chimpanzees, and macaques collected from before birth to up to the end of the life span for each of these species has found a key difference in the expression of genes that control the development and function of synapses, the connections among neurons through which information flows.

As researchers describe in a report published online today in Genome Research, they analyzed the expression of some 12,000 genes—part of the so-called transcriptome—from each species. They found 702 genes in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) of humans that had a pattern of expression over time that differed from the two other species. (The PFC plays a central role in social behavior, working toward goals, and reasoning.) By comparison, genes in the chimpanzee PFC at various life stages had only 55 unique expression patterns—12-fold fewer than found in humans.

Retrieved 02/04/12. Full Story: Science Magazine

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Could this be why memory researchers claim that the human brain is unable to biologically create memories until age 3-ish? If the connections our brains need to send information are slow to mature, how can a memory from the cradle be accurate?

If the professions of psychotherapy and psychiatry look to science and refuse to accept biological facts about how the human brain develops, what does that say about supporting psychotherapy aimed at helping clients/patients remember events in their lives that our brains are incapable of making? Will facts about the human brain stop psychotherapists from encouraging clients to do the impossible?

Brain research may help patients distinguish between science-based mental health treatment and psychotherapy void of scientific evidence that it is useful.

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3 Comments

  1. avalon111

     /  02/10/2012

    One explanation is of course to consider the ‘body memory’ theory. This was first defined in Pazder & Smith’s ‘Michelle Remembers’, which also introduced the world to repressed memories of satanic ritual abuse. ‘Body memories’ chief proponent is Barbette Rothschild.

    The idea is that the brain isn’t the only place where memory is stored – it could just as easily be your elbow, your lower intestine…your left thumb. If you get an ache, a spasm, a bit of a creak or cramp, particularly as you get older, then its not because that part of your body is…well, getting a bit worn out, or that perhaps you should get off your arse and do some exercise…rather, it’s because you were traumatically-abused as a child, and that part of your body is revealing the abuse to you.

    The theory has huge appeal to white middle-class and middle-aged women who reckon they were satanically-abused as children but awkwardly, don’t have any injuries to indicate anything of the kind happened.

    Daft as it sounds, ‘The Body Remembers’ just isn’t the title of the book, but is also the theory behind the ‘body memory’ movement. It’s a legacy of our past; the image of a pianist having his ruined fingers replaced by those from a hanged murderer, only to find those same fingers trying to wrap themselves around other people necks, including his own. ‘Body memories’ theory is hugely popular amongst fundamentalists and feminists, neither of whom generally have much time for scientific theory.

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    • I truly understand and lived through the body memory nonsense. You are right – every ache or pain, in my personal experience with it, was interpreted as a memory fragment. What then ensued was a long search for the particular personality that held the memory and then more time was spent on coaxing the memory from them. Sometimes, of course, the personality that held the memory would split into other personalities and take the memories with them!

      The search for memories would not have ended under those circumstances had I not woken up and realized the psychiatrist needed treatment, not me.

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  2. K

     /  02/09/2012

    Actually, I was told that humans do have memories before age 3. Yet, as they approach this cut off age, the memories seem to get almost written over by new memories. If you have two children who were a year apart, you could see the one younger than three discussing something that happened a year or so before, but the elder won’t remember it.
    Maybe they simply don’t have adequate long term memory before a certain age? If they had no memory at all, wouldn’t that render them incapable of learning?

    Patients may be able to guess what age abuse started at due to clues and outside help, but if someone is telling you in great detail about an abusive event that happened before age 3, that is cause to be weary, yes.

    Psychiatrists know this. That’s why many of them will believe a patient is malingering or perhaps a bit delusional if they insist that they have clear, accurate memories of this age.

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