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By Steve McCann

Take a moment and think about your childhood. The birthday parties, a scraped knee, sitting on a grandparent’s lap. Now really focus. What is your earliest memory? How old were you? The answer to that question may surprise you.

Dr. Carole Peterson from Memorial University of Newfoundland is one of the leading minds in the field of childhood amnesia and early childhood memories. She has spent the past 20-plus years researching and conducting studies on people’s earliest memories.

At its core, it’s a straightforward process. You ask a person’s earliest memory and compare that to their parent’s recollection. Even better – they have a photo or video to time-stamp that memory.

Dr. Peterson’s research dates back to 1999. She studied nearly a thousand participants, collecting 697 memories. Her findings? Humans can remember things from a much earlier age than what was originally understood.

We can begin to remember things as young as two-and-a-half, a full year younger than expected. Dr. Peterson credits her process. You ask for one memory, and then another, and another. It doesn’t take long for the floodgates to open, and that’s often when a person’s earliest me

Dr. Peterson also unearthed a process called telescoping. In essence, “objects in mirror are closer than they appear”. As people age, people believe their earliest memory happened much “closer”, around 3-and-a-half years old. People are often surprised to learn just how young they really were.

This fascinating subject, one Dr. Peterson has dedicated her life to, is one she says needs more external research and funding. The key is verified dating – being able to pinpoint the exact age a memory happens. This would cancel out potential dating errors by parents and give experts an even better idea about just how early the human brain begins to retain memories and information.

One can’t help but imagine in the world of social media, where so many memories are instantly documented with a digital time stamp, will only help expedite this process, and advance the work Dr. Peterson has worked so hard to collect.

So take a moment. Think back to your earliest memory. Now provide another. Keep going. How old were you? Ask your kids the same thing the next time you see them. Then ask how old they think they were. Their answer may very well be different from what you recall.


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