At what age do we start to have memories?

Credits: Pixabay / jarmoluk

Nobody remembers their first memory, or the moment when they started to be able to remember. The scientific community are still not unanimously agreed in terms of the precise age at which our first memories form.

“Ask a three year old if he enjoyed his birthday six months beforehand and, possibly, he may be able to tell you a few things about it. Ask him the same question several years later and you will find he has no memory of it”, as stated in the magazine Sciences et Avenir.

When children lose their memories of events, it is called childhood amnesia, a phenomenon identified since the 19th century. This notion has been the source of huge debate, and even Sigmund Freud attempted to explain it, counting it as a oedipal problem. In any case, philosophers were the first to put their theories forward, and to suggest that a lack of self-awareness and the imperfect acquisition of language inhibited the creation of memories.

Based on animal experiments, neuroscientists have come up with a few answers. It appears that the rapid growth of neurons in the hippocampus, while the hippocampus is in the process of developing, can disrupt brain circuits. So the earliest memories are stored so deeply in our brains that they become inaccessible. There is also a second factor in childhood amnesia: the prefrontal cortex, another key area of the brain in terms of memory. This, like the hippocampus, is in the process of developing during early childhood.

In 2014, the Emory University of Atlanta (US) led a study on 83 children aged 3 years, who were interviewed every year from the ages of 5 to 9. According to the results, the children between 5 and 7 years old remembered 60% of the events from when they were born, compared to 40% in children aged 8 to 9 years old. This indicates that memories can form from very early on, but the majority are are likely to disappear throughout childhood due to brain development.

Sources : Sciences et AvenirMédisite