A shocking number of people remember a fake first memory, study says


Take a moment to think of your first memory. Now guess how old you were when you lived it.

If you weren’t at least 3 years old at that point, chances are, that memory is fake. In a recent study, nearly 40% of people surveyed reported a memory that happened when they were age 2 or younger — which probably means they’re false.

Generally speaking, scientists believe that memories start to form at age 3 or 3 1/2. But it’s not that nearly 40% of study participants are lying. Instead, they’re likely piecing together fragments of remembered experiences and things they’ve learned about their childhood through photographs or stories.

“The person remembering them doesn’t know this is fictional,” Martin Conway, one of the paper’s authors and the director of the Centre for Memory and Law at the City University of London, said in a release. “In fact when people are told that their memories are false, they often don’t believe it. This partly due to the fact that the systems that allow us to remember things are very complex, and it’s not until we’re 5 or 6 that we form adult-like memories due to the way that the brain develops and due to our maturing understanding of the world.”

Of the 6,641 people surveyed, 893 (roughly 13%) said their first memory dated back to age 1 or younger. Middle-aged and older adults were more likely to believe they had an impossibly early memory.

It’s possible that research participants remembered true events but simply misplaced the date. However, one thing is for sure: Your mind is playing tricks on you if you remember the day you were born... or anything even two years after that.