byIan Lecklitner 

If you’re a boy and a second, third or fourth child, you probably can’t remember shit

“I can still remember it like it was a day ago,” says Aria, 26. “There was this warm, emotionless feeling, which is difficult to describe. It was like looking at an invisible wall in front of your face. I didn’t feel happy, sad, tired or angry. I just felt like I belonged. All I could see was black, but since that was all I knew, it didn’t really bother me.”

“I remember drifting in and out of consciousness, with the sounds of liquid around me, similar to submerging your head under water,” Aria continues. “The memory ends, and it cuts to me being about two or three, lying on the ground as my mom offered me water. I could remember her face and distinct details about the apartment, which we lived in at the time, all of which have been confirmed by my parents. I can’t remember anything between being born and being two or three, but I can vividly remember being in my mother’s womb.”

Stories like these, where someone distinctly remembers the earliest moments of their life — sometimes prior to what most of us would even consider being alive — litter the internet. Then there are people like me, who can hardly even remember what they had for breakfast, let alone the experience of being a fetus. It’s always bugged me, hearing people talk about their early childhood as if it happened just yesterday, while I try to remember how I got here, right now. So, in an effort to better understand our memories — and if a person can really feasibly remember being a little bean-person inside of their mother — I spoke to a couple of experts about how far back a person is supposed to remember.

“There’s a very robust finding that’s been in the literature for over 100 years — so it’s extremely robust — and that’s, for most adults in Western society, the average age of earliest memory is between three and four years old,” says Patricia Bauer, memory researcher and professor of psychology at Emory College in Atlanta. “So, three-and-a-half years — some studies will be a little closer to three, some studies will be a little closer to four — but that’s the average.”

“That said,” Bauer continues, “within every study where it’s possible to actually evaluate it, there’s huge individual variability. You’ll have some adults who will claim to have memories from, sometimes the first year [she says this skeptically], but more so the second year of life, and you’ll have some adults who say their first memory isn’t until they’re eight or nine years old. It’s really striking. I personally don’t know of any other psychological phenomenon that has such a huge range. It’s a really unique situation in that regard.”

I specifically asked Bauer about stories like Aria’s, where someone remembers extremely early memories, and while she was again skeptical, she wasn’t completely dismissive of the possibility. However, many psychologists who study memory cast doubt on this phenomenon. For instance, as Punit Shah, a researcher of psychology at the University of Bath, explained to VICE regarding people who claim to have such memories, “Not to tarnish their experience, but it’s very unlikely. The main reason is a process called confabulation. For many people, they’ve been told things that they then go on to remember as actually experiencing this. Your parents telling you specific details about your birth — that might lead you to fill in the rest.” Still, more research needs to be done to dig deeper into these tales.

As for why people have such different starting points when it comes to early memories, there are several factors that can have an impact. “Some of the ones that are most commonly examined are gender: It tends to be to the case that women have memories from earlier in life than men, but that’s not found in all studies,” Bauer explains. “It tends to be the case that if you’re a first-born child, you have earlier memories than if you were a later-born child. Then there’s the weird one of, if your family moved before you were about three years of age, you have earlier memories, or if you attended preschool.”…


F. Kaskais Web Guru

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