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Some lasting memories emerge at age 2.

Sigmund Freud asserted in 1916 that people generally forget the first few years of life. In experiments conducted since then, adults have placed their earliest memories at around 3 1/2 years of age.

But recall for particular kinds of events may extend back to 2 years of age, according to a report in the June JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY: GENERAL.

"Going to the hospital or the birth of a new sibling are memorable events even when they occur at age 2" conclude JoNell Adair Usher and Ulric Neisser, both psychologists at Emory University in Atlanta. "Other events, even those as important as a move or a death in the family, are not recalled in adulthood unless they occur somewhat later."

These early memories prove relatively accurate, contend Usher and Neisser. Ironically, repeated exposure to family stories and photographs concerning such an experience may worsen memory of the actual event, the psychologists add.

The researchers studied 222 college students, each of whom experienced one of four events at age 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. The events were the birth of a sibling, being hospitalized, the death of a family member, and a family move.

Participants answered questions such as when and where a student found out that his or her mother was having a baby - and cited related information sources, such as family stories. The mothers of 53 students reviewed their children's answers and rated them as largely accurate.

About 60 percent of the volunteers who were 2 years old at the time of a sibling birth or a hospitalization answered three or more questions about those events, as did more than three-quarters of those who were at least 3 years old. But only a few of those who were 1 year old at the time of a sibling birth or a hospitalization answered at least three of the questions.

In contrast, only around 10 percent of the students who were 2 years old at the time of a family member's death or a family move answered more than three questions about these occurrences. This proportion reached 80 percent for those who were 5 years old, but fell to zero for those who were 1 year old.

Volunteers who had been 3 years old or younger recalled less if they had access to family stories or photographs, perhaps because this information replaced their few memories of the actual event, the researchers suggest.

Brain mechanisms that handle personal memories may not reach maturity until after age 4, Usher and Neisser note. But by age 2, events that prove especially meaningful to a child may make a mark on memory, they argue.
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Title Annotation:meaningful events more likely than other events to be remembered at early ages
Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jun 12, 1993
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