On average, the first moments that could be remembered date back to the age of two and a half, according to a new study.
Published on May 6, 2021 in the journal Memory, these results postpone by one year the previous conclusions on average age of first memories, hitherto estimated at 3 and a half years.
“When the first memory occurs, it is a moving target rather than just a static memory.”, Explains Carole Peterson, expert in childhood amnesia and lead author of the study, in a communicated. “So what many people provide when asked for their first memory is not a limit or a decisive start before which there are no memories. On the contrary, there seems to be a reservoir of potential memories that adults and children take away ”, added the researcher.
The team believes that many more early memories would actually be remembered than most people think. On the one hand, the more we look in our memory, the earlier we can go back to our memories. On the other hand, the first memories would be systematically badly dated: “We find that people think they were older than they actually were in their earliest memories”Said Carole Peterson.
The team reviewed 10 of their research articles on childhood amnesia, as well as data collected in Dr. Peterson’s lab since 1999. In all, the study was conducted with 992 participants, and the memories of 697 of them were confronted with the memories of their parents.
Overall, the study showed that children’s earliest memories predate when they think it happened, as confirmed by their parents.
To explain this phenomenon, Dr. Peterson mentions a “telescoping“:”when you look at things that happened a long time ago, it’s like looking through a lens. The more distant a memory is, the more the telescoping effect makes you see it more closely ”.
To avoid this effect, the researcher suggests working on more data with precise dating of memories to hope to get even closer to the truth.