The Unconscious Mind: Memories Before Age Two

We do have memories from before age two — we just are not aware of them! The right half of our brain matures as much as two years faster than the left. But it is the left half that eventually gives us waking consciousness and conscious memories. The right stores memories of our earliest experiences, particularly about our relationships with our birth mother. This is often called our “unconscious mind.” The nature of those relationships can then affect our relationships with others — unconsciously — for the rest of our lives.

Why?

This was described in a research summary published in the January 2008 issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science by John Bargh and Ezequiel Morsella, entitled “The Unconscious Mind.” “Given the uncertainty of the future and the slow rate of genetic change, our genes have provided us not with fixed responses to specific events (because these cannot be anticipated with any degree of accuracy), but with general tendencies that are adaptive across local variations. It is for this reason that evolution has shaped us to be open-ended systems. This open-ended quality gives room for ‘fine-tuning’ the newborn to local conditions. Much of this is given to us by human culture, the local conditions (mainly social) of the world into which we happen to be born. The cultural guides to appropriate behavior (including language, norms, and values) are ‘downloaded’ during early childhood development, thereby greatly reducing the unpredictability of the child’s world and his or her uncertainty as to how to act and behave in it.”

A Recent Revelation

In his keynote address April 30, 1995, at the American Psychological Association Division of Psychoanalysis Spring Meeting, psychoanalyst Allan Schore explained, “Current knowledge of the psychobiological mechanisms by which the right hemisphere processes social and emotional information at levels beneath conscious awareness … allows for a deeper understanding of the ‘psychic structure’.” Schore is a member of the clinical faculty of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine.

A Lifetime Dominance

In his 2010 publication entitled “The Right Brain Implicit Self: A Central Mechanism of the Psychotherapy Change Process,” Schore writes, “It is the right hemisphere and its implicit functions … that are truly dominant in human existence. Over the lifespan, the early-forming unconscious implicit self continues to develop to more complexity, and it operates in qualitatively different ways from the later-forming conscious explicit self.”