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The concept of sensitive or critical periods in the context of memory development is examined in this paper. I begin by providing examples of the role of experience in influencing sensory, linguistic and emotional functioning. This is followed by a discussion of the role of experience in influencing cognitive functioning, particularly memory. Based on this discussion, speculation is offered that the infant’s proclivity for novelty, which makes its appearance shortly after birth, provides critical input into a nervous system that will eventually be set up to learn and remember for the entire lifespan. Because learning and memory are fundamental to the survival of our species, those aspects of the nervous system that permit the encoding and retention of new information are remarkably malleable from the outset, even in the face of some types of neural trauma. This flexibility is retained for many years so long as the learning and memory ‘system’ is challenged. The implications of this model are discussed in the context of those life events that might undermine the longevity of memory systems.