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Wednesday 24 January 11.00am
900 of the memories we collected in the Memory Survey were very early "preverbal" memories - some from as early as 6-11 months old. This result has shocked scientists and academics who believe that adults do not remember memories of childhood before they can talk. Research agrees that the mean age for true autobiographical memories is 3.5 years - but it appears that the nations' memories and scientific study disagree.
Mariella Frostrup unpicks these findings. She talks to the individuals who believe they can remember their babyhood and asks how they can be so certain that the memory is real. A 37 year old male remembers playing with his twin brother who died at the age of two. His parents were so bereft that all family photographs were removed and there has been no discussion of his early years. Can this adult really remember so far back?
The Booker Prize winning novelist A.S. Byatt reveals her earliest experience of lying in her pram, and argues that her memories are not verbal but visual. Prof. Joseph LeDoux at the Centre for Neuro Science in New York and author of The Emotional Brain supports her theory that it is possible to "remember" sensations or emotions in the adult body.
Faraneh Vargha-Khadem is Professor of Neuroscience at the Institute of Child Health. She has studied the structures in the brain, including the Hippocampus, believed to be critical for memory function. "Although we are born with legs, we cannot learn to walk straight away. It is similar with cognitive function" she says. "These structures in the brain are in place when a baby is born but they are not fully developed until much later in childhood - even as late as age 6 or 7". This conundrum has fascinated Prof. Harlene Hayne at the University of Otago in New Zealand, who has studied early memories for over 30 years. She explains that although all her study into the science of early memory indicates that it is not possible to have "preverbal" memories, until we know more, she cannot rule it out.