Memories of a Happy Childhood

May 18, 2011

Brit Trogen


Remember that trip to Disneyland you took when you were four? The time you rode your first bike, ate your first pop tart, or went trick-or-treating dressed as Raggedy-Ann? What about when your parents accidentally left you behind on the family vacation and you had to fend off two criminals for an entire week during Christmas? Those were the days.


The notion of infantile amnesia is a concept most of us are probably familiar with, even if we don't realise it. You likely don't remember the first four or five years of your life with perfect clarity, and this lack of memory may even lead you to create some so-called "false" memories, sometimes shaped in the image of favorite movies, ads or stories you've heard. The theory is that children under a certain age aren't capable of forming true memories, resulting in a sort of fill-in-the-gap method that takes place later on.


But a recent study from the Memorial University of Newfoundland is making us rethink the way we view our earliest memories. In a study that followed 140 children from ages 4 to 13, children were asked to recall their earliest memories, then pulled back in two years later and re-examined. As it turns out, children under the age of four are perfectly capable of forming memories; but they systematically forget them during ages 4 to 7. We still don't know exactly why this sudden amnesia sets in, but it does explain why as an adult you have so much trouble trying to recall your trip through the birth canal... and why you are perfectly justified in being skeptical of people who claim to remember everything before their fifth birthday.


Of course, this doesn't help you in telling the real memories from the fake ones. But all in all, if you believe it happened, does it really make a difference?


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