Why our first memories may not really be our first memories

A new study conducted by an international team of researchers found that many of our earliest memories are actually fake

That's because scientific literature suggests that it's not possible to have a memory from before the age of 2, said lead study author Shazia Akhtar, a senior research associate at the University of Bradford in England.

Previous studies have explored the phenomenon known as "childhood amnesia", demonstrating how children tend to lose early memories of their lives prior to the age of 7. Participants were told they had to be sure the memory was one they were sure happened. It should not be based on, for example a family photograph, family story, or any source other than direct experience.

This was important to emphasize, as some people may form their first memories exclusively from "a story told by a relative" or "information pieced together from a photo", Akhtar said.

Interestingly, the person remembering doesn't realize the memory is fake and the researchers found that when participants were told their first memory was false they didn't believe it, showing just how deeply ingrained mental representations of early events are.

Researchers from the United Kingdom asked more than 6,600 people about their first childhood memory. Researchers, including those from City, University of London, and Nottingham Trent University in the United Kingdom, found that 38.6 per cent of 6,641 survey participants claimed to have memories from two or younger, with 893 people claiming memories from one or younger.

The research team then examined the earliest memory descriptions in terms of content, language, nature, and details.

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Indeed, the study authors suggested that some fictional memories could simply be based on remembered fragments of an early experience, rather than an actual first memory.

Such "recollections" seem to be "particularly prevalent among middle-aged and older adults", news site ScienceDaily adds.

"For this person, this type of memory could have resulted from someone saying something like 'mother had a large green pram.' The person then imagines what it would have looked like".

The findings were published online this week in the journal Psychological Science. "Over time, these fragments then become a memory, and often the person will start to add things in, such as a string of toys along the top".

I know mine was on my parents wedding day - I'm being lifted off a white bench outside by someone and I can see my little white sandals on my feet as I look down at them.

Professor Martin Conway, of City, University of London and co-author of the paper, said: "It's not until we're five or six that we form adult-like memories due to the way that the brain develops".


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