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Ineke Wessel: how well do you remember the first years of your life?

How well do you remember the first years of your life?

Most adults don’t remember anything about the first years of their lives. On average, adults say that they are about 3.5 years old in their first memories. Memories from before age 2 are very rare. This is probably because young children can form memories but can also quickly forget them. The older the child, the more likely it is an event will be remembered.

Ineke Wessel

Our research also shows that the age in first memories does not have to be fixed. We asked test subjects to read examples of memories. Some of the test subjects read examples of early events such as learning to walk, while others read examples of later events such as learning to ride a bicycle. We then asked them about their earliest memories and how old they were in them. After reading these examples, the ‘early’ group reported on average younger memories than the ‘late’ group. This happens because memories do not have a time stamp. If you remember something, you have to find the right age for that memory. Such a reconstruction is sensitive to external information, which is why childhood memories are not as reliable when it comes to dating them correctly.

It usually doesn’t really matter when an event took place, but when, as an adult, you have to testify in a court of law about crimes you experienced as a toddler, it is important. Our department regularly uses our knowledge of memory to advise the judiciary in moral matters.

dr. J.P. (Ineke) Wessel
First name
Associate Professor
Intrusive Memories; Suppression/Repression; Recovered Memories; Trauma; Autobiographical / Episodic memory; Forensic Psychology; Replication Crisis & Research Methods
Last modified:03 September 2019 1.35 p.m.
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