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Memory. 2007 Aug;15(6):647-63.

Eliciting adults' earliest memories: does it matter how we ask the question?

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University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.


For more than a century, psychologists have debated the age of adults' earliest memories. To date, estimates have ranged from 2 to 6-8 years of age. In this experiment, we examined how the nature of the question used to elicit early memories influenced the age from which memories were retrieved. Young adults provided written descriptions of autobiographical memories and estimated their age at the time of each remembered event. One group was asked to report their six earliest memories. Three other groups were asked to describe memories associated with particular cue words. They were asked to report memories from any time in their lives, to report childhood memories, or to report their earliest memory associated with each word. When participants were asked to report their earliest memories, there was no effect of cue words on the ages of the memories reported. When participants were asked to sample different epochs of their lives, however, the age of the memories they reported differed substantially: asking participants to recall early memories yielded a higher density of events that occurred during the traditional childhood amnesia period. Thus, many early childhood memories may remain available, but may be less accessible than later memories. These data show that the way in which we ask adults to report their early memories affects the age of the memories that are reported, and thus influences the conclusions that may be drawn about the boundary of childhood amnesia.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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