by Max Brantley
An internationally renowned memory and brain expert, Diamond asks, “How can normal, loving and attentive parents, with no evidence of substance abuse or an organic brain disorder, have a lapse of memory which results in the death of a child?” His research group has developed a two-part hypothesis to address the basis of “Forgotten Baby Syndrome” (FBS). First, they evaluated whether there is a consistent pattern of circumstances that may provide insight into FBS occurrences and, second, they speculated on the neurobiological basis of FBS.The defense objected to the delay, though it also has complained the prosecution has not turned over all evidence in the case, including a photo of the judge's car.
Diamond hypothesizes that FBS occurs as a result of the competition between cognitive and habit forms of memory. Cognitive memory occurs when one consciously plans out a task to accomplish in the future, for example, planning to take a child to daycare as a part of a larger driving plan. In contrast, habit memory occurs when one performs a routine that can be completed automatically with minimal thought, such as driving to work in an “autopilot” mode, in which decisions as to where to stop and turn occur automatically.
Brain habit and cognitive systems are in a constant state of competition, Diamond notes. In all cases of FBS he and his associates studied, the caretakers had every intention to stop at the daycare center as a part of their drive. However, stopping at the day care center on the day FBS occurred was not a part of an established daily routine. With FBS, the brain habit-based memory system suppressed the activation of the cognitive memory to interrupt the drive and take the child to daycare.
Diamond also noted that in some FBS cases the parents experienced impaired sleep the night before, and/or they experienced a powerful stressor during the drive, which suppressed the activation of a cognitive memory. Dr. Diamond concludes that “the brain habit memory system has the capacity to completely suppress the cognitive memory system, thereby providing a neurobiological explanation of how FBS can occur.”