What’s the first thing you remember from your childhood? Maybe it’s a birthday party, or being at the playground, or the voice of your mom or dad. But chances are you don’t remember anything before age three. But why? Did you have no memory before three? Or did you, at some point, forget those things?
New research suggests that before the age of seven, you can remember plenty from before you were three. But at around age seven, you start to forget those things, and the memories fade away from you forever. The researchers investigated this by recording mothers talking to their three-year-olds about events that had happened in the past, like trips to the zoo and their first day at pre-school. Then, years later, the researchers interviewed the children themselves about those events. Christian Jarrett at Research Digest explains what they found:
Bauer and Larkina uncovered a paradox - at ages 5 to 7, the children remembered over 60 per cent of the events they'd chatted about at age 3. However, their recall for these events was immature in the sense of containing few evaluative comments and few mentions of time and place. In contrast, children aged 8 and 9 recalled fewer than 40 per cent of the events they'd discussed at age 3, but those memories they did recall were more adult-like in their content.
They also found that mothers who prompted their children for more information, by saying things like “tell me more,” and “then what happened” wound up with kids who remembered the events better later on.
So if you want your kids to remember things better, interrogate them intensely after every activity. Or, just admit that at age seven they’ll start to lose the memories of that awesome zoo trip and their first few birthday cakes.