Health

Children can 'recall early memories', Canadian study suggests

  • 11 May 2011
  • From the section Health
A childhood photo album
Image caption The new study suggests we may have once remembered elusive childhood events

Children can remember memories from their earliest years, but forget most of them later, according to research.

Events from well before the age of two can be recalled, suggests a Canadian study of around 100 young children aged 4 to 13.

When the same children were interviewed in later life, most of the memories were gone.

Most adults cannot recall much from before the age of three or four.

Experts from the Memorial University of Newfoundland asked 100 children aged 4 to 13 to recall three of their earliest memories and when they thought they had happened.

They found that the younger children could recall memories from as early as 18 months.

They also checked with their parents, who could corroborate many of the events and the times they took place.

Two years later, they spoke to the same children and again asked them to recall three of their earliest memories.

What they found was that the younger children in the survey recalled different memories from those they had given before. Nor did they recall their earlier memories when presented with prompts.

"What surprised us is that we would give these really detailed cues to the children about memories they had told us about two years previously and they would say 'No, that never happened to me'," lead author Dr Carole Peterson told the BBC.

Previous work by Dr Patricia Bauer at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, suggests we may encode earlier memories in a different way to older ones, which might explain their disappearance.

But the researchers say much more work needs to be done to understand why we leave so much of our childhood behind us.

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