I have a clear memory of standing near a crêpe-paper-lined wall of my fourth-grade classroom and deciding that age 9 was the time kids got a grip on how things worked and became fully initiated into the world of adult-level thinking. (I had recently turned 9.) That hypothesis wasn’t confirmed but, let’s say, wouldn’t be struck down by the results of a recent study on childhood amnesia that suggests that 7 is the age that the earliest childhood memories – of events that happened before age 3 – fall away.
Researchers from Emory University recorded 83 3-year-olds being interviewed by their mothers about unique autobiographical events. From the study:
Different subgroups of children were tested for recall of the events at ages 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 years. At the later session they were interviewed by an experimenter about the events discussed 2 to 6 years previously with their mothers (early-life events). Children aged 5, 6, and 7 remembered 60% or more of the early-life events. In contrast, children aged 8 and 9 years remembered fewer than 40% of the early-life events.
The authors found that children whose parents allowed them to direct the conversation, even to switch topics, recalled more than children whose parents kept them on topic.
A release describes more on the findings:
“One surprising finding was that, although the five-and-six year-old children remembered a higher percentage of the events, their narratives of these events were less complete,” [Emory University psychologist Patricia Bauer, PhD, the study's lead author] says. “The older children remembered fewer events, but the ones they remembered had more detail.”
Some reasons for this difference may be that memories that stick around longer may have richer detail associated with them and increasing language skills enable an older child to better elaborate the memory, further cementing it in their minds, Bauer says.
Young children tend to forget events more rapidly than adults do because they lack the strong neural processes required to bring together all the pieces of information that go into a complex autobiographical memory, she explains.
The study was published in the journal Memory.
Previously: We’ve got your number: Exact spot in brain where numeral recognition takes place revealed, Individuals’ extraordinary talent to never forget could offer insights into memory and Childhood-cancer survivors face increased risk of PTSD
Photo by Charlotte Morrall