The tragic death of a three-year-old boy in a hot car in Sydney last week has raised questions about how a parent could forget about their child in the back seat all day long.
But there’s a psychological reason that explains how these sorts of tragedies can occur — and it could happen to anyone, experts have warned.
Arikh Hasan was found dead in the back of a Toyota Corolla in Sydney’s southwest about 3pm on Thursday, as temperatures climbed to 34C.
The young boy’s father, Newaz Hasan, was reportedly dropping his eldest son off at Glenfield Public School that morning, when he decided to get petrol before taking his younger son to childcare.
However, the father appeared to have forgotten his sleeping child in the back of the car and continued straight home.
The father reportedly spent the day working in his home office before finding Arikh’s body when picking up his oldest child from school.
A police spokesman said the boy had been in the car all day. The father has not been charged over the incident.
Tragedies like these can potentially be attributed to a condition known as Forgotten Baby Syndrome.
Arikh Hasan was reportedly left in the hot car all day long.
Dr David Diamond, a psychologist and leading researcher in the field from California, USA, spoke in August last year about how parents could make this kind of mistake.
“The most common response is that only bad or negligent parents forget kids in cars,” Dr Diamond told Consumer Reports.
“It’s a matter of circumstances. It can happen to everyone.”
He explained that the human brain was wired to fall into patterns and routines, which is known as motor memory.
This means that when a routine changes, the parent can think they’ve fulfilled their daily tasks when in actuality they haven’t.
“We have kind of a brain autopilot system that allows us to go from point A to point B without thinking about it,” Dr David Diamond told CBS News.
“It actually suppresses our awareness that the child is in the car.
“What is so tragic is that they think they‘ve actually gone to the right location and that the child’s been dropped off at daycare.”
In this case, Mr Hasan’s decision to get petrol before driving to daycare could have been what made him think his son wasn’t still with him in the car.
Arikh Hasan, three, was left in a car on Railway Parade in Glenfield, in Sydney, on Thursday. Picture: Facebook
In his research, Prof Diamond found that the autopilot response was so powerful that some parents can even have a “false memory” of dropping their child off at daycare.
Associate Professor of Psychology Matthew Mundy, from Monash University in Melbourne, told a Victorian inquest in 2017 over the death of another child who died from being left in the back seat that it was incredibly easy to make this kind of mistake.
“If you are capable of forgetting to post a letter, you are capable of forgetting to take your baby out of the car,” Mundy said.
“Consciously we know that child is way more important than a letter or your mobile phone, but your brain cells … are not making that discrimination for you.”
It’s such a risk, in fact, that in 2017 car manufacturer Hyundai announced it was rolling out a rear detector feature, which would send an alert to the occupant’s mobile phone in case a pet was left in the car.
Arikh Hasan, three, pictured with his mother Marzia and father Newaz Arikh Hasan. Picture: FacebookAn example of the kind of alert a parent would receive if they had this feature in their car.
Witnesses said Mr Hasan and his oldest child screamed and cried, before bystanders called the ambulance on their behalf.
When NSW Ambulance officers arrived, the boy was unresponsive. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
The boy’s father was later seen at the scene breaking down in tears with blood running down his hand.
Previous reports suggested Mr Hasan’s injuries were from punching the window to rescue his son, however, a witness said he opened the door to get to Arikh.
Rather it’s suggested Mr Hasan sustained hand injuries after punching the glass window in distress.
— With NCA Newswire
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