We need a little discipline for this week’s question. Before you read another word pause and think of your very earliest memories. It might be sitting in a room when something relatively dramatic occurred, or really something quite minor which struck your attention at the time. It will probably have a visual content such as the room you were in. Think about it, try and place your age, then read on.
You’ll find it hard to beat my first example: it comes from the day I was born. I was sitting in my Granny’s house eating my tea when the telephone rang. It was to tell us that I had just been born. The picture is clear in my mind – down to the details of Granny’s room. So I have been forced to reconstruct. As it happens my brother is two years older than me, to the day. So I think that in reality he had been sent to tea with Granny next door when the call was made. I was later told the story and somehow exchanged myself for my brother. It is relevant that in later years I was often in my Granny’s house, which was next door.
Another example may actually be true. I am standing in the back garden and I ask my father about the house being built next door. I asked him about the wooden planks, and he tells me they are part of the roof and will be covered with tiles. I am impressed with the thought. My checks tell me that I was under three years old.
An interesting study, published many years ago, asked people where they were when they first heard that Kennedy was assassinated. They were able to identify the very room. But checking with the family showed in many cases that this was not so. A serious study published this July showed that some 40 percent of people had faulty memories of these early events. Middle aged and old people were most likely to experience this. Current research claims that memories cannot be formed before the age of three and it was suggested that the apparent infant memories were formed by connecting several different incidents – such as a pram, to which we mentally attach a favourite toy or some such.
So have a good look at your early memories and consider whether they are really true. You may find that your relatives or older friends can remember the situation and can confirm or correct them. And then tell us.