People's earliest childhood
memories begin to fade when they're about 7 years old, a new study
It's been known that most adults' memories extend back to only about age 3.
The loss of memories before this age is known as childhood
There is increasing evidence that although infants use memory to learn
language and other new types of information, their brains are not yet developed
enough to retain complex memories, the team of Emory University psychologists
To determine exactly when a person's earliest memories start to vanish, the
researchers recorded the responses of more than 80 children who were 3 when
they first answered questions from their parents about six events they had
experienced in recent months, such as going to a birthday party or the zoo.
The children were divided into different groups, and each group returned at
a specific age (5, 6, 7, 8 or 9) to have their memories of these events tested.
Children between the ages of 5 and 7 could recall 63% to 72% of what they had
remembered at age 3. But by age 8 or 9, they could recall only about 35% of
these early events.
The findings were published recently in the journal Memory.
"Our study is the first empirical demonstration of the onset of
childhood amnesia," study leader Patricia Bauer said in a university news
"Knowing how autobiographical memory develops is critically important
to understanding ourselves as psychic beings," Bauer said.
"Remembering yourself in the past is how you know who you are today."
The researchers were surprised to find that although younger kids remembered
more events from age 3 than older children, the older kids' recollections
contained more information. Possible reasons for this difference may be that
memories that endure longer have richer detail associated with them, and that
skills help older children better describe the memory and further imprint
it in their minds, the researchers said.
The next step in this line of research is to determine the age at which
people develop an adult memory system, which is likely between ages 9 and 18,
(picture:Brain pencil from Shutterstock)