My brother and I lived together as children for only about nine years. I was five-and-a-half when he was born and moved to California when I was 15 and he was nine.
In the year since I moved to Oregon where he has lived all his life, we have sometimes played the “Do you remember game. Most of the time, when he recalls something from our shared childhood, I respond, “Really?!? I don’t remember that.”
That’s probably not unusual. Memory is a slippery thing, which is why eye witness accounts in crimes are suspect, and individual interest, emotion and attention probably have some affect on how well we recall events.
Carole Peterson, a psychology professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland, has been studying early childhood memory. Although it has been widely believed that children under the age of three or four do not have the cognitive or language skills to form, the professor now thinks otherwise.
Peterson and her team enlisted 140 children age four to 13. The kids were asked to recall their three earliest memories. Parents confirmed the memories. Then, two years later, the children were asked the same question.
”Kids ages 4 to 7 at the study’s start tended to recall different memories at the first interview compared with two years later, suggesting these very early memories are fragile and can easily fade away. However, a third of the children ages 10 to 13 described the same earliest memories at both time points…
“In addition, for kids who didn’t describe one of the previously mentioned memories at the two-year mark, the researchers described the kid’s own summary of that memory. For the older kids, that was enough to jog their memory and they immediately recalled the event.
“But in the 4- to 7-year-old age group, the children said that had never happened in their lives.”
Nothing in this study, says Professor Peterson, suggests that content or emotional impact affect whether an early memory is retained or lost and next, she will tackle the question of what makes some memories stick and not others.
The whole reason for telling you about that study is ask what your earliest memory is.
In my case, it is body memory. I can close my eyes and recall how it felt to hold myself upright by the side of my crib and the taste of the varnish on the top of the railing. So maybe I chewed on it when I was teething. Not having raised children, I don’t know at what age a kid moves from a crib to a bed, so it’s hard to know my age at that memory but, probably, before I was three.
Now it’s your turn.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dani Ferguson Phillips: A Love Story – Part Two