Do babies remember traumatic events later in life?


The short answer to this question is sometimes, but the real story is the effect that traumatic events can have in a baby's development. To start off I'd like to define what constitutes a traumatic event; traumatic events include, but are not limited to: car accidents, natural disasters, sudden illness, death in the family, abuse/neglect, terrorism or witnessing violence. If an adult were to experience any of these events it would have a traumatic impact on their life and for babies the effect of traumatic events is often magnified.


Experiencing traumatic events before the age of 3 can cause physical and emotional developmental problems in babies. Babies who witness traumatic events often experience issues with mobility and managing or developing emotions. If the traumatic event was witnessing a family member dying or losing a primary caregiver to divorce, babies are more likely to have issues developing relationships and have separation anxiety. Further, in the first few months of a baby's life they are especially sensitive to arguments between parents or issues with caregivers and they often feel like they caused the event because they don't fully understand it. Traumatic events frequently lead to physical and emotional developmental problems in babies.


A major issue for babies who witness or experience traumatic events is posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Babies will re-experience the trauma they suffered when they are older through dreams, sounds, smells, or sights. This can lead to issues sleeping, increased anxiety or irritability. However, what is really significant about the PTSD that babies experience it that when they are older they are more likely to remember the traumatic event that happened, than the good events that took place in their childhood.


While traumatic events hinder the physical and emotional development of a baby, they also cause a serious disorder, PTSD. However the question still remains can children actually remember traumatic events that occurred when they were babies? The answer to this depends on the child and how developed they are. For children who are a little older and more developed(around 6) they are likely to remember the actual event, while babies who are only a few months old are likely to experience more negative development effects, but do not remember the actual event. Scientists have determined that there is not a specific age at which children remember or don't remember traumatic events, because every child responds to traumatic events differently and develops at different ages. 



I personally learned that babies can be effected by traumatic events through a psychology class that I took last year. I know that babies have a cognitive process of their own that helps them remember things. As you stated though it develops with age. Babies are known to remember sights primarily, which is why when a stranger approaches a baby it gives them that confused stare; simply because they don't recognize the person. The link below gives more information on the cognitive development of a child.

Cara, I was wondering if there was a study that proved what you explained in your article? How are these results measured? It would be helpful to have a study that you could break down based on controls, and the size of the study.

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