Parents say they would never, ever forget their child in a car on a hot day.

What causes a parent to misremember?

But David Diamond, a professor of psychology and molecular pharmacology and physiology at the University of South Florida who studies memory, warns it could happen to anyone.

“Doctors emphasize this happens to all kinds of people. This phenomenon does not only target irresponsible people. It targets people who, in fact, are aware of the issue. When parents learn about others leaving their kids behind in cars they tend to judge very harshly. Not knowing for fact that the most responsible parents are the ones with higher risk to forget their own kids in their cars...

...From a neuroscientific perspective, forgetting a child is analogous to when you’re driving home from work and you intend to stop along the way to go to the store, but by the time you arrive home you realized you never stopped at the store as intended".

David Diamond, PhD, Neuroscientist, University of South Florida



Memory (Competing Brain Systems)
Memory is a function of the brain that allows you to obtain, hold and remember information and thoughts you had experienced. The memory could be split in two

● Prospective Memory: processed by 2 brain structures

    1. Hippocampus, stores new information, the ‘here and now’ (processes that a child is in the car).
    2. Prefrontal Cortex, enables us to plan future, accounting for a change in routine (processes route, including to go to daycare rather than straight to work).
    ● Habit memory: forms subconsciously through of repeated activities, like riding a bike.
Basal Ganglia – stores habit memories “enables auto-pilot” (driving to/from work daily).

What causes a parent to misremember?

Memory specialists noted that under circumstances of fatigue and stress the basal ganglia takes over and suppresses the prefrontal cortex. The brain turns on auto-pilot, doing what it would do on any given day, not accounting for changes in routine.

Think it can't happen to you... Think again!


David Diamond is a professor of psychology and molecular pharmacology and physiology at the University of South Florida. He studies how everyday memory processes can result in “forgotten baby syndrome.” (Photo: Dateline, NBC)

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