One of the things we treasure most is our memories — good or bad — which makes it disheartening to learn that childhood memories, specifically, aren’t as accurate as we once believed. These memories are sometimes surrounded in confusion, like when you recount an event with someone that was there only to discover that there are apparent errors in both versions of the story, leading to inevitable disagreement.
According to new research, over 40 percent of our very first memory is false. These memories, from ages one to three, get fuzzier as people get older.
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Science Daily reports that the research, conducted by the University of London, surveyed over 6,000 people, asking participants to detail their first memory along with their age at the time. Participants were told that the memory had to be certain and that it couldn’t be based off a photo or a story from a family member. Out of the descriptions acquired, researchers studied the language used, the descriptive detail, and more.
Researchers believe that memories before the age of two are based on fragments of an early experience that recalls an object or a feeling. These memories are later filled in with the subjects’ knowledge of their childhood, which is obtained throughout their life from photos or family conversations. Researchers concluded that four out of 10 middle aged or older adults have fictional memories of their infancy.
In our study we asked people to recall the very first memory that they actually remembered, asking them to be sure that it wasn’t related to a family story or photograph. When we looked through the responses from participants we found that a lot of these first ‘memories’ were frequently related to infancy, and a typical example would be a memory based around a pram […] 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. Over time these fragments then becomes a memory and often the person will start to add things in such as a string of toys along the top.”
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Professor Martin Conway, co-author of the study, concludes that the most surprising part of all this research is the fact that people don’t know that their memories are fiction. Even when someone tells them that their memories are false, people have a hard time believing them.