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What Science Says About Our First Memories Will Probably Shock You

A woman researching at the laboratory
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Think back as far as you can. Try to relax and remember some of the very first glimpses of the world that have been etched in your mind.

Maybe the stroller you had as a kid, maybe some toys, perhaps just a fuzzy image of your surroundings. Now ask yourself how old you were when this first snapshot was taken.

Now that you have remembered as much as you can, it would feel wrong if someone were to say at least a part of it is untrue. However, likely, this is exactly the case.

The first memories we have are some of the most mysterious ones in the pool of past recollections we store in our heads. Keep reading to find out the most interesting facts about them.

What Do We Know For Sure?

Our memorization skills change as we grow up. For instance, babies mostly have just short-term memories.

Toddlers tend to remember facts and events, and their short-term recognition works better. As we reach the next stage (between 4 and 7 years old), prospective memory starts to develop - the creation of a plan and remember to execute it.

After ten years of rapid development, the hippocampal growth starts to slow down, and the connections inside become more refined. Long-term memory improves. However, selective decisions when it comes to it (namely suppressing certain events) also happen at this age.

Between the ages of 13 and 21, both short and long-term memory becomes even more refined, and we start relying on them much more.

Now that we have the basic information about the development of memory let’s start learning more about our first memories.

New studies show that most people remember things from when they were two and a half years old.

This, however, is highly influenced by culture, upbringing, traumatic events, and other factors.

What may come as a surprise is that some scientists suggest we have a lot of “potential memories” as well - these are the ones we don’t think we remember, but if we often focus on what our first memories are, they might rise up to the surface.

Another important aspect of this is how you’re asked - focusing your attention on remembering for months or even years, as well as the way you pose the questions themselves is key when searching for your actual first memory.

Can You Trust Your First Memories?

Our first memories can provide some insight into our current character.

Values, ideologies, how we deal with problems, etc. are not solely determined by our childhood, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have a substantial influence on them.

However, it is also true that as our brains develop, new cells sometimes disrupt the ones before them, which is why our earliest memories aren’t that reliable.

Many of our earlier memories, the first ones included, may often have misinformation. In fact, around 4 out of every 10 people seem to have some fallacies when it comes to their first memories.

Added, subtracted, or utterly fictional information is sometimes a part of the picture as clear as the parts that are actually true. Whether we remember based on other people’s stories or our own emotions about the fact itself make up some part of the story, early memories can be pretty unreliable.

It is very important to note that we don’t think of these memories as fictional or false. A study done at University College London shows that the fabrication of false memories by other people actually has a pretty high chance of succeeding.

A whopping 70% of participants confessed to crimes done when they were kids that they never actually committed, thanks to leading questions and dialogue techniques.

Not only that, but they described the situation in such rich detail that they even “remembered” the faces of police officers.

A different aspect that should be considered is simply misdating your first memories.

One study done 8 years apart shows that people tend to label their first memories as happened later after those 8 years had passed.

It was in fact, very common for the participants to add an entire year about the same memories when asked for the second time.

To Remember

This is a summary of the concrete information we have regarding first memories.

It's not as much as we would presume, especially given the fact that every person has one.

However, this shouldn’t discourage anyone from trying to figure out more about first memories in general.

What is an interesting fact you know about human memory? Comment below!

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