Amnesia future or investigational therapies

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

Future or Investigational Therapies

Childhood Amnesia

Much research has been and continues to be conducted about childhood amnesia, adding to the wealth of evidence that is available about this phenomenon. It is worth noting, however, that memories of subjects are often unreliable but are nevertheless an important part of research in this area. Thus, researchers often use for their studies memories like the birth of a sibling that can be easily verifiable (Usher, et al., 1993).

Early Observations

Childhood amnesia, despite being the universal human experience that it is, was only first formally studied in 1893 by the psychologist Caroline Miles (Miles, 1893; Bauer, 2004). In 1904 G. Stanley Hall noted the phenomenon in his book Adolescence (Hall, 1904). But it was Sigmund Freud who offered one of the first, most famous, and most controversial descriptions/explanations of childhood amnesia when he tied the phenomenon in with his other psychological theories (Freud, 1916; Bauer, 2004).

Modern Observations

Much research in this area today aims to identify new characteristics and possible explanations for the phenomenon. For example, one recent study compared childhood and adult memories and found surprisingly few substantive differences, despite expected differences in the emotional vs factual and episodic vs non-episodic content of the memories (West, et al., 1999). Another example is Eacott & Crawley’s study which found support for childhood amnesia in the very few memories their subjects recalled from before the age of 2 ½. They found that participants’ memories of this time were also characterized by consistent false memories. But when asked about an event they could not possibly have a memory of, the subjects showed they had no problem with telling apart knowledge of an event and a memory of the event, suggesting something peculiar about the false memories observed in childhood amnesia (Eacott, et al., 1998).

Blackout (Alcohol Related Amnesia)

Research indicates that some users of alcohol, particularly those with a history of blackouts, are predisposed to experience blackouts more frequently than others.[1] One such study indicated a link between prenatal exposure to alcohol and vulnerability towards blackouts, in addition to the oft-cited link between this type of exposure and alcoholism.[2] Alternatively, another study has indicated that there appears to be a genetic predisposition towards blacking out, suggesting that some individuals are made to be susceptible to alcohol related amnesia.[3]


  1. HARTZLER, B., AND FROMME, K. Fragmentary and en bloc blackouts: Similarity and distinction among episodes of alcohol-induced memory loss. Journal of Studies on Alcohol 64(4):547-550, 2003b.
  2. BAER, J.S.; SAMPSON, P.D.; BARR, H.M.; ET AL. A 21-year longitudinal analysis of the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on young adult drinking. Archives of General Psychiatry 60:386-391, 2003.
  3. Arch Gen Psychiatry - Abstract: Genetic Epidemiology of Alcohol-Induced Blackouts, March 2004, Nelson et al. 61 (3): 257

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