Learning by moving

Philippe Put, flickr.com, CC BY 2.0
Philippe Put, flickr.com, CC BY 2.0

Think back to when you were two years old. Remember anything? You probably don’t. In fact, you probably don’t remember much before age six – a curious phenomenon called infantile amnesia. Though it’s observed in rodents and non-human primates as well as humans, scientists aren’t really sure why or how it happens. But a new article published in Nautilus explores this strange part of our development and the research that’s helping us to understand it.

The article focuses on the hippocampus – a part of the brain located in the temporal lobe that’s responsible for encoding and retrieving our memories – and discusses how its development may contribute to infantile amnesia as well as cognition later in life. It reports that across animal and human studies, researchers have found that exploration of one’s surroundings at an early age not only improves memory, but also problem solving, pattern identification, logic, spatial memory, and language skills. And the more exploration the better, particularly self-directed exploration by children.

The piece points out that this has implications for many aspects of early life – play, for instance. The author, M.R. O’Connor, notes that children’s playtime has significantly decreased over the years and kids are spending less and less time moving, which might be doing them not only a health but a neurobiological disservice. He also raises the question of how to provide children with motor impairments with an effective way to explore their surroundings and develop their spatial cognition.