Study: Babies only remember happy times

Thanks to fascinating research, we now know that babies only remember the good times. Here’s more about the study and its findings…

 A study has revealed that babies are capable of forming memories.

Parents who spend their time playing with and talking to their babies may wonder whether their tot remembers any of it a day later. Thanks to a BYU study, we now know that they at least remember the good times!

Emotions and memory

The study, published in Infant Behaviour and Development, shows that babies are more likely to remember something if there is a positive emotion, or affect, that accompanies it.

“People study memory in infants, they study discrimination in emotional affect, but we are the first ones to study how these emotions influence memory,” said BYU psychology professor Ross Flom, lead author of the study.

Observing baby reactions

Although the five-month-olds can’t talk, there are a number of different ways that researchers can analyse how the babies respond to testing treatments. In this particular study, they monitored the infants’ eye movements and how long they look at a test image. The babies were set in front of a flat panelled monitor in a closed-off partition and then exposed to a person on screen speaking to them with either a happy, neutral or angry voice. Immediately following the emotional exposure, they were shown a geometric shape.

To test their memory, the researchers did follow-up tests five minutes later and again one day later. In the follow-up test, babies were shown two side-by-side geometric shapes: a brand new one, and the original one from the study. The researchers then were able to record how many times the baby looked from one image to the next and how long they spent looking at each image. Babies’ memories didn’t improve if the shape had been paired with a negative voice, but they performed significantly better at remembering shapes attached to positive voices.

What it all means

As of right now, the mechanism behind this phenomenon is not known. It is also not known how long the memory of the shapes associated with happy voices will last.

An unrelated study by a team at McGill University in Montreal recently found that memories of language patterns heard in the first year of life are retained in the brain years later, which could make it possible to blend the two concepts and use happy voices to try and boost memory.

Further research could uncover implications for this research that could benefit the child later in life.